It’s time to stop viewing pregnant women as threats to their babiesRoundup
tags: abortion, womens history, womens rights, pregnancy
Kathleen Crowther teaches in the department of the history of science at the University of Oklahoma and has published numerous articles on the cultural history of the Scientific Revolution.
Last week, the Georgia legislature passed HB 481, a bill that defines an unborn child as a “living, distinct person” entitled to “full legal recognition.”
Under this law, not only will abortions be treated as murders, but miscarriages will be subject to criminal investigation, as they already are in a number of states. As many commentators have pointed out, this bill and others like it that grant “personhood” to fetuses display a profound ignorance of the biology of reproduction. Nearly 15 percent of recognized pregnancies end in miscarriage — a conservative estimate. The total rate of miscarriages may be as high as 50 percent.
But if the sponsors of these bills are willfully obtuse about female physiology, they stand squarely within a very long history in western medical thought of regarding the womb as a dangerous place and imagining fetuses as in dire need of protection from the women who carry them. It's that very thinking that we must overturn, relying instead on science and offering support and understanding, not suspicion and investigation, for women who miscarry.
The idea that the womb is a dangerous place might seem counterintuitive. After all, for much of western history, embryos and fetuses could not survive anywhere but the womb. And even in the age of in vitro fertilization and state-of-the-art neonatal intensive care units, the womb has not been replaced as the site of gestation. Despite this fact, however, in a great deal of medical writing on pregnancy for the last 2000 years, the womb has not been imagined as a warm, safe and comfortable home. Wombs — and women’s bodies more generally — have been seen as hostile environments.
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