Choice on Battlestar Galactica

Note: This post includes spoilers for all four seasons of Battlestar Galactica! If you have not seen the show in its entirety yet, you really do not want to read this.

Battlestar Galactica is often described as a sweeping show with a whole lot to cover. Thus, it’s not a big surprise that some things fell through the cracks. It’s inevitable when you’re dealing with a narrative that is this epic in scope. And, by and large, I am really pleased with the things that the show handled, and with how in-depth it managed to get with a lot of issues.

But I was a bit disappointed that one of the things the show didn’t explore more fully was the issue of reproductive autonomy, both because there was a lot of explore, and because it’s such a hot issue in society right now that I was kind of looking forward to seeing what they did with it. The show certainly didn’t shy away from including not so subtle commentary on other issues, like, say, torture, and the occupation of countries to “liberate” them.

The show sets us up with an uncomfortable dilemma: Humanity has been reduced to less than 50,000 people, and they need to reproduce if the species is going to survive. Indeed, as Gaius Baltar points out, they need to be reproducing at a rate faster than the one they sustain to keep the species alive. Thus, it stands to reason that every child is a wanted child, for the species, even if not in an individual case.

Now, I want to say right here and now that I am not a forced birther and hopefully never will be. But Battlestar Galactica presents a challenging issue. Assuming that you think that the human race needs to and should survive, can you really in good conscience abort a fetus? A potential human being who would add to the genetic diversity of the species?

This is a case in which exercising individual reproductive autonomy, a right which I strongly believe needs to be protected, would have a profound impact on society. Not in the abstract sense that anti-abortion folks want to bring up, but in a very real sense; every fetus which is aborted, every child which does not survive to adulthood, every adult who does not have children, is contributing to a limitation of the population, which is bad for the species. Women in the world of Battlestar Galactica aren’t just making a choice for themselves, they are also choosing for their species, and the species doesn’t get a say in the matter.

This is really brought home in the second season, with three parallel plots both addressing the issue, from very different perspectives.

In the fleet, a young woman wants to pursue an abortion, and an argument is made for banning abortion. President Roslin, who has been fiercely pro-choice her whole life, is faced with a classic election problem: Stick with her beliefs, or win votes? In the end, she tries to have her cake and eat it too; she bans abortion, but still allows the young woman to have one, arguing that the procedure took place before the ban and therefore doesn’t count. We see politicians compromising themselves for votes all the time, but it seems especially stark here because being pro-choice seems so personal and vital that it’s frightening to see Roslin depriving women in the fleet of their reproductive freedoms for a handful of votes.

Later, we see Roslin ordering the abortion of Sharon’s fetus from her deathbed because she thinks the child going to be a monster, and only reversing her decision when it’s revealed that the blood of the fetus can save her from her cancer. I think there are some potentially interesting parallels to be explored here with abortion and disability, in which women are often encouraged and sometimes forced to abort after a fetal diagnosis by people who think that the child will be a “monster,” even if those women want their children.

On Caprica, Starbuck is kidnapped and she wakes up in a Cylon research facility; it’s implied that her ovaries are taken for their eggs, and she stumbles into a room filled with human women who are, literally, serving as incubators for Cylon-human babies. I have to admit, this scene made me almost viscerally ill. It was like a realization of the worst dreams of some of the forced-birther types, in which women are reduced to their uteruses and have no value beyond being used to develop a fetus.

In an act of mercy, Starbuck disconnects the women from the machines after being begged to do so, even though the women know that it will kill them. Later, this experience comes back to haunt her in the third season when she is confronted with a child which a Cylon claims is hers, which is something I would actually like to get into in another post in the future.

All of these plots highlight the intensely personal nature of abortion and reproductive freedoms, and how politicized it can become. We see women who very much do not want to be pregnant, and we see women who very much want to be pregnant, and we see the choices of others imposed on them “for the common good,” and it brought up a lot of really interesting issues. My thoughtbox was going a mile a minute thinking about all of these stories.

After this handling in the second season, I thought for sure that we would be touching upon this again in later seasons. Yet, it’s something which was pretty much placed on the back burner from there on out, and I’m not quite sure why. It certainly continued to be relevant, especially after the Cylons became mortal and there were very real risks of losing both Cylons and humans. And as the numbers of humans in the fleet shrank, it seemed even more pressing to discuss the fact that without more babies, civilization could die.

Did they feel that they just didn’t have time? Was there pressure from the network to drop it?