Next week, anti-choice activists bring the latest assault on reproductive rights to Washington, D.C. On October 13, the “Voices from the Womb” tour will set up shop at the Capitol Visitor’s Center, offering both the public and members of Congress the chance to stop by and watch ultrasounds being performed on women in their first, second, or third trimester of pregnancy. The purpose of this The purpose of this fetal theater is allegedly to show the truth about abortion. What is that truth, you ask? Oh, just that an ultrasound image is so powerful, it erases all doubt that life begins at conception, establishes the personhood and humanity of a fetus, thereby giving the fetus protection under the 14th Amendment, and calls the very legality of Roe v. Wade into question.
This isn’t exactly a new strategy, but it’s still worth taking a closer look at. In a nutshell, the 14th Amendment was established after the Civil War to give ex-slaves full rights; it establishes the citizenship of any person born or naturalized in the U.S., guarantees that U.S. citizens have procedural and substantive due process, and grants citizens equal protection of the laws. Arguably the most single important part of the Constitution, this amendment has been essential for safe-guarding individual rights.
If fetuses are established as people from the moment of conception, the anti-choice argument goes, then they are granted the same rights and protections as any other citizen, and the validity of Roe would be called into question. Of course, this push to grant fetuses equal personhood ignores the multitude of difficult legal and ethical issues that would also arise – in particular, in regards to stem cell research, in-vitro fertilization, and contraceptive use. While it’s no great surprise that such issues don’t seem to trouble anti-choicers, these considerations are just some of the reasons that stunts like Voices from the Womb should concern anyone that values their right to make their own decisions about birth control, to say nothing of their reproductive freedom.
While equating the value of an ultrasound with full rights under the law may be a bridge too far even for the current Supreme Court justices, this kind of grandiosity is par for the course for the anti-choice side, which places the importance of the fetus above the importance of all else – up to and especially women. Nowhere in Voices from the Womb’s propaganda is there any mention of the women that are carrying these fetuses; they are merely vessels, in the most literal sense.
These anti-choicers, like the ones behind Ohio’s scarily restrictive fetal heartbeat bill, are attempting to manipulate emotions and ignore the basic fact that every woman has a right to decide when and if to have a child. These ultrasound images just show something that virtually anyone with a basic grasp of biology knows: that a human fetus resembles a human. To accord these fetuses “voices” and propose that their rights outweigh those of actual, existing women is insulting and ignorant.
While I’m not familiar with any formal response from the mainstream abortion rights groups, that doesn’t mean that this issue isn’t deserving of our attention – and our voices. Next Thursday’s event is just the first of a planned multi-year tour that will bring Voices from the Womb to schools, churches, parks, and other locations around the country (including next year’s Democratic National Convention) in the interests of manipulating emotions and trampling women’s rights. Contact your senators and representatives and let them know that you don’t support this threat to choice.
Sarah's first book, Generation Roe: Inside the Future of the Pro-Choice Movement, will be out March 2013. For more information, follow her on Twitter @saraherdreich, or check out saraherdreich.com.