And so, the Texas legislature pretends that at 20 weeks, the unborn ______ no longer belongs to the body it lives inside. But personhood, in terms of reproductive self-determination, is most clearly noted after birth with a birth certificate. When the baby leaves the body, it is born. Instead of being framed as a matter of life and death, it should be about the event of birth. The unborn belongs to the body it’s attached to, as much as our internal organs are (supposed to be) our own. It should not be legislated for or capitalized on.
I wish personhood laws were that simple. Alas, “The definition of personhood ranges,” says ACLU attorney Alexa Kolbi-Molinas, continuing “if you’re talking about property, law, or inheritance, or how the census is taken.” Anti-choice organizations like Personhood USA exploit this gray area by claiming life starts “when the husband turns on that really sexy Sade cassette” (JK, but close).
The 20-week cut off argument is dangerous for many obvious and often stated reasons. There are a few more, too, that deserve to be re-stated again and again, to clarify what ‘choice’ has to do with being alive.
It’s the same schtick. Policymakers subjugating bodies…of color, both rural and urban, of poor whites, of immigrants. The ways the government capitalizes on these groups is not the same. It’s important, though, to reiterate points of intersection, the horizonless compulsion of the most privileged and powerful to control what seems threatening and/or in need of being controlled. Our right to choose the progression of our lives (to give birth and to stop a pregnancy) threatens the ability of the state to reinforce the narrative that we are not the captains of our own ships and that the bodies we live in have little value.
Attempting to cap abortion at 20 weeks is not about saving an ‘innocent life,’ it’s about controlling living people and fragmenting/undercutting the reproductive power/resistance of the people. Colonizing, excuse me, controlling the womb and the notoriously wild and sinful sexuality that it possesses. To be pro-choice is to threaten the assimilationist theocracy we absolutely-no-question-about-it live under.
Fundamentally, the right to terminate and/or pursue pregnancy cannot be entirely abandoned. Unless you live in an American prison, wherein your basic medical care is as elastic as the laws that locked you up in the first place. But abortion won’t end, it is the access to safe and legal abortion services that we will lose. This is why the legislation being passed in Texas and North Carolina are, quite fucking obviously, acts of systematic violence against the health and vitality of Americans that will now have little to no access to legal abortion services.
The unborn ‘child,’ to anti-choice Christians, is pregnant (sry, sry) with meaning. It symbolizes an essential purity that, according to some cockamamie interpretations of the King James Bible, is lost at the very moment of birth. My heart nearly dropped when I read this one liner, “The wicked are estranged from the womb: they go astray as soon as they be born, speaking lies.”* In other words, an unborn baby is like an unpurchased MacBook Air. Once taken out of the box, the value greatly depreciates. Which, oddly enough, is a strikingly accurate representation of the right wing’s (dems included) stance on defunding social services for low-income single mothers.
How does the reproductive rights movement already reframe this ‘unborn child’ narrative? The value in re-emphasizing the needs of those already born and living cannot be understated. The needs and rights of working and jobless Americans, the sick but trying to stay alive Americans. The Americans frozen inside the prison industrial complex. These are real pro-life issues. I see organizers pursuing them year round, when the politicians are busy running for president. But really, what would it look like for representatives to address the born-a-while-ago-and-trying-to stay-alive constituency?
*King James Bible, Chapter 58, 3.