The Corner

‘Women Matter More Than Fetuses’

Rebecca Traister is pregnant. She just passed the 24-week mark. Congratulations are in order. And she is looking forward to having a second child. But Traister is also a bit wistful that the window has closed on her ability to get an abortion easily. In a piece titled, “Let’s Just Say It: Women Matter More Than Fetuses Do” she writes:

One Monday this September, I woke to the realization that I was officially in abortion overtime. I had entered my twenty-fourth week of pregnancy, which is the point when abortion (except in the most vanishingly rare of medical circumstances) ceases to be a legal option in the state of New York.

I have no desire to have an abortion. I am carrying a baby my husband and I conceived on purpose and whom we can’t wait to raise alongside our older daughter. Yet on that morning, I was acutely aware of having lost one of the most important tools available to women: the ability to exert control over what’s going on inside my uterus.

During both of my pregnancies, I have monitored the weeks available for legal abortion with the same precision that I used to keep track of when to get the nuchal screening, the amnio, the gestational diabetes test. To me, abortion belongs to the same category as the early Cesarean I will need to undergo because of previous surgeries. That is to say, it is a crucial medical option, a cornerstone in women’s reproductive health care. And during pregnancy, should some medical, economic, or emotional circumstance have caused my fate to be weighed against that of my baby, I believe that my rights, my health, my consciousness, and my obligations to others—including to my toddler daughter—outweigh the rights of the unborn human inside me.

And so on. The rest of the piece is mostly a familiar liberal retelling of the story of abortion rights.

I know it’s often unfair to hold headlines against authors, but this piece seems to line up pretty well with the headline. My objection isn’t necessarily to the notion that “women matter more than fetuses.” It seems to me that pro-lifers include the “life of the mother” exception for this very reason. So the pro-life view isn’t that fetuses matter more than women, it’s that fetuses simply matter. How much they matter — and when they should matter — is a topic worthy of discussion and debate. But in Traister’s account there can be no balancing here at all, no recognition that a fetus, even a late term one, has claims that can ever outweigh the mother’s “consciousness” or “economic” or “emotional circumstances.” To compare abortion to a diabetes test is to say that the fetus counts for absolutely nothing morally even after the 24-week mark. I am not a doctrinaire pro-lifer, but I find the pro-abortion view that fetuses are mere uterine contents until they are alive outside the womb to be morally tone deaf, utterly unpersuasive, and ideologically far more extreme than the pro-life view. 

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