Cult of the Foetus

The so-called ‘pro-life’ movement puzzles me deeply, and not just in the sense that I am troubled by the attitudes which place the value of a foetus—viable or not—over that of the person who carries it. No, I mean in the sense of the deep hypocrisy which runs through the movement; even if you think foetuses are more valuable than anything else in this world, you should surely think that anything to support a fetus is appropriate, necessary, perhaps even critical. Yet, that’s not how members of the movement behave. In contradiction to their own stated goals, they actually do things that endanger fetuses all the time.

This isn’t just about ‘the sanctity of life,’ but more specifically about the utter devaluation of life, actually. Because when you buy into the cult of the foetus, you seem to believe that foetuses exist in a sort of vacuum, independent of everything else, and nothing matters but a cluster of cells slowly but steadily developing. Nothing else should concern you. This sort of tunnel vision is utterly bizarre and perplexing, and I don’t understand why it’s become the dominant narrative within the ‘pro-life’ movement, for surely there are people out there who genuinely believe that life begins with conception and also believe that social support for foetuses should perforce include protections and support for those who, you know, host them.

This movement’s deep anti-woman tendencies suggest that its members would happily incubate foetuses in standalone devices if it could; and, it seems, keep them in a state of suspended animation as foetuses forever, since ‘pro-lifers’ have absolutely zero interest in living, breathing children. Including infants. It seems like a strange and warped outgrowth of the idea held by some Christian sects that being alive is to be inherently in a state of sin; yet, it’s also contradictory, because the movement claims that foetuses are alive, yet holds them up as examples of innocence and purity. Which is it? Why does a foetus matter up until the point it travels down the birth canal, at which point it becomes a worthless baby, so much dross, to be thrown out along with the placenta?

What about this makes sense? Why are members of the ‘pro-life’ movement not lobbying hard for prenatal care to protect the health of pregnant patients and their foetuses? Why are not they not lobbying for better care in hospitals, for a more aggressive attack on the dismal neonatal mortality rate, for a hard evaluation of the tremendous racial disparities in fetal and maternal outcomes? Because these are all things that directly affect real-world foetuses, even before they become babies. And if life is precious—and I argue it is—then why isn’t the life of a baby precious? Why aren’t children worthy of protection? Why is it okay for children to starve, undergo abuse, receive horrible educations, and struggle to survive? What about this picture is even remotely accessible?

What kind of world is the ‘pro-life’ movement fighting for if it believes that foetuses and foetuses alone are worthy of protection? Some members argue that a foetus is defenseless and has no advocate, yet I would argue most people carrying wanted pregnancies are rather ferocious advocates. They are looking forward to the birth of their children and are ready to go to great lengths to protect their foetuses, and themselves; because they want to survive to be parents, they want their children to have loving homes where they are protected and guarded with care.

Once born, infants are equally defenseless; they rely on their parents for everything, struggle to communicate with the world around them, and are at profound risk of abuse. This doesn’t change through early childhood, when children face a hostile world that doesn’t take them seriously. They may not be foetuses anymore, but they still need advocates and protection. Because no child should ever have to face the appalling conditions many children live in today. Where is the concern for these children and their families? Are they ‘sinners’ and thus unworthy of support? If a foetus isn’t a sinner, does that mean it’s not really alive, since all life comes with sin?

How does the movement reconcile its rampant hypocrisies with itself? I’m genuinely curious, because I’ve puzzled over it for years, and I still don’t understand. There are social movements that I don’t agree with that I can understand on an intellectual level; I can follow the path of their logic, and see what their rhetoric is rooted in, even if I am radically opposed to it and think it’s disgusting. But ‘pro-lifers’ confuse me because nothing about what they say and do makes sense; their movement breaks my brain not just with its determination to deny personhood and autonomy in the name of ‘protecting the unborn,’ but with its utter failure to actually protect foetuses and promote social policies that would benefit developing foetuses and, yes, the people who carry them.

Because a foetus doesn’t grow in a vacuum, and you can’t pretend that it does. A developing foetus grows inside another living, breathing, human being, and what happens to that human being matters. Not just in the larger cosmic sense, but in the immediate, real world sense; what happens to a pregnant person can have immediate consequences for the developing fetus, whether it’s prenatal exposure to toxins, malnutrition, abuse, emotional stress, or a hose of other issues that people can face in a world which is extremely hostile when it comes to pregnancy.

If the foetus is to be treasured above all, fine. Have it your way. But don’t tell me foetuses are the most important thing in the world and then not follow through on it.