On Ohio’s Heartbeat Bill

I think it’s interesting that all of this stuff – transvaginal ultrasounds, making women listen to the heartbeat, the recent Texas law mandating funerary treatment of fetal remains, attempt after attempt at heartbeat legislation, not to mention the protesters with their photos of fingers and toes – does its best to grasp at and run with any physical resemblance between fetuses and fully-developed babies. It’s interesting because it shouldn’t actually matter, legally or morally, if fetuses look like goldfish or gourds or tiny people up to the moment of birth. And yet their resemblance to babies is used again and again in attempts to restrict abortion rights. Why is that? It’s partly because the people doing this stuff think it’s an effective way to guilt women into not getting abortions. But I think it’s also because forcing us, again and again, to encounter and acknowledge the body of the fetus, to focus our attention on its embodiedness, is actually a fairly powerful rhetorical strategy. It’s a way of shifting the discourse, of drawing parallels that slowly push “fetus” into the same meaning space as “person.”

I mention this because, first, I think we on the left should pay more attention in general to what the right does well, if we have any hope of combatting it (I know it’s cathartic to rant about how much they hate women, but I think we need other rhetorical tools in our toolbox as well); and second, the way we act, even when we’re being forced to act that way, can very much shape how we think and what we believe. In addition to fighting tooth and nail to stop bad legislation and protect abortion rights, we should remain aware of this and be crystal clear about the distinctions our camp makes and will continue to make, even as we put on headphones to listen to a heartbeat or fill out funeral forms for an eight-week miscarriage.