There are some cells in my uterus at the moment that aren’t usually there. I call these cells “my baby”, and spend much of my time planning the future that they may have, once they’ve finished developing into a human being. Other women, with similar cells, plan how to remove the cells as quickly and painlessly as possible.
A favourite pro-life argument is to seize gleefully on the similarities between the two groups of cells and demand how you can possibly justify the vastly different ways of treating them. If the fetus has no value, they ask, why do pregnant women often feel a close bond with their unborn babies? If it’s nothing more than a bunch of cells, why can a miscarriage be so devastating? Tempting as it is to dismiss this as so much irrelevance, it’s worth exploring the apparent contradiction for the insights it can offer into what pro-choice really means.
My baby is not yet a human being. Even with special care, it is very unlikely to be capable of surviving on its own if it were removed from my body. It needs my bloodstream and my uterus to have even a chance of becoming a human being. Although it’s genetically distinct from me, it doesn’t seem unreasonable to view it as a part of my body. A part that could, given the right conditions, become a separate person, but until that happens a part of me.
We all see our bodies differently, and we all give different values to different parts. Some people welcome body hair because of the cultural value it has; others remove it for much the same reasons. A transsexual man could be delighted at the removal of his breasts; a woman with breast cancer is more likely to feel mutilated. The same body parts, but very different reactions.
The cells inside the uterus are just another example. I give mine a very high value and watch their development with delight; other women give theirs a low value and can’t wait to be rid of them. The belief that we both have the right to assign value to our own bodies for ourselves is the essence of being pro-choice. If a woman places a high value on her fetus, removing it against her will is just as unacceptable as forcing a woman to retain, against her will, a fetus she gives a low value to.
This is partly why miscarriage can be so devastating. A woman who anticipates with joy the time when her fetus becomes a fully-fledged human being invests those cells with a great deal of value. If they are destroyed, she’s lost a part of herself that she loved and welcomed, and will naturally feel a degree of grief. The pain could well be made worse by the attitude that women are walking incubators, but that’s another question entirely.
The contradiction turns out to be no contradiction at all. I care passionately about my baby; every sign of movement brings me a little extra joy. But it wouldn’t bring joy to every woman, and those for whom it would mean nothing but discomfort should be able to make a different choice.