Mollie Ziegler Hemingway | Shiny, Empty Uteruses

In the opening pages of her book Pro: Reclaiming Abortion RightsKatha Pollitt tells readers that her mother had an abortion in 1960. Her mother’s FBI file, which Katha read after her death, said she was in the care of a physician for “gynecological problems.” Pollitt says her father never knew about the abortion and neither did she, which made her angry “the way one can be angry at one’s mother for having a life outside her child’s ken.” (Yes, she manages to equate abortion with “having a life.”)

It’s unclear why she is convinced that unspecified “gynecological problems” meant her mother had an abortion instead of all the thousands of other things it could mean, but it’s an early indication of the way the book will jump to conclusions, focus on abortion as a moral good, and make claims that seem more fantasy than reality. A few pages later, Pollitt says she daydreams about “shiny and empty uteruses,” where clearing the womb is just another form of housekeeping. Her very last paragraph finds her dreaming of a future feminist heaven where “there will be abortion.”

And the pages in between are just as intriguingly unreal. She says that abortion is hard to get in the United States (where more than 1 million abortions are performed each year) and that “although abortion is legal, it might as well not be.”

Her first argument begins with a decidedly retro dehumanizing of children in utero as a clump of cells. She even uses the phrase “clump of cells” in the book. Also: a “stray sperm,” “homunculus,” a “zygote/embryo/fetus,” “a fertilized egg or lentil-sized embryo,” a “fertilized egg or pea-sized shrimplike embryo,” “the sex that conceived.” Ultrasound images of children in the womb are “really just a gray blur” and “fuzzy, high-tech smudges” that she compares to photos of the Loch Ness Monster. Stunning documentary images of pregnancies are misleading because an “embryo the size of a lime is made to look as large as a toddler.”

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