You know, as it should come as no surprise to anyone who sees how often I beat the pro-choice drum, that the oft-heard rhetoric of the fetus as a “separate person” with “rights” that must be “protected” by law? It just never impressed me.
We’re talking about a “person” who not only lives inside the body of another, but is completely, biologically dependent on that person. It is a person that no one else can see, hold, feed, clean or otherwise reach. It lives off that other person’s bloodstream. Before a certain stage of gestation, it is not even visible to an outside person as a presence in its mother’s body. A pregnant woman before a certain gestational age is indistinguishable from a non-pregnant one. Others only know about her expected offspring if she tells them about it. Before another, later stage, the fetus cannot be removed from the woman’s body without dying. If it could be removed and still be viable, then elective abortion would be a non-entity and the subject of controversy would be fetal transfer and artificial gestation. Before another, still later stage, the fetus cannot be removed from the mother with a reasonable expectation of good health in the outside world. As long as that “person” is inside the womb—and to have the best chances at life and good health, it should be kept inside for as close as possible to 40 weeks—anything done on its behalf must go through the pregnant woman.
If a fetus is a “separate person” from its pregnant mother, then what does “separate” even mean? The fact that a fetus may look like something approaching a baby, and be developing its own set of organs at the time it is aborted, does not change the fact that its existence is absolutely dependent on the biology of another person, who is not similarly dependent on anyone else, and only that one person. If the fetus is a separate person, then it is a parasite. If it is not a parasite, then it is a part of its mother’s body, and she is not required to grow it any further. Until someone develops a way to transfer an established pregnancy to a machine which gestates the fetus safely to term without further skin off the conceiving woman’s nose, one of those definitions must apply.
Aside from the absurdity of “fetal separatism” there is the real-world enforcement of the concept of fetal “rights.” Lynn Paltrow breaks it down thus:
Adding the “pre-born” to the Constitution will not free fetuses nor will it empower them. Rather, it will empower outsiders including police officers, prosecutors, judges, and child protection workers to advance their beliefs about what is right for the “pre-born” and to do so by controlling the pregnant women who carry, nurture and sustain them.
Protecting the “rights” of the “pre-born” does not change the fact that a fetus is a defenseless dependent who cannot assume responsibility, make decisions or express a preference. Laws concerning fetal personhood cannot change biology; they reassign the decision-maker from the pregnant woman to outside authority figures. The new “rights” belong to the law enforcement, medical personnel and family services officials who may disagree with an expectant mother over what is best for the child she is growing. When the law separates the rights of a pregnant woman from the needs of the fetus, there can be no equality between the two. The law cannot trust women to have their “pre-born children’s” interests in mind. Any conflict, as perceived by a doctor, police officer, social worker or other authority figure, and she is likely to end up on the wrong side of the law.