In Utero

Upon reading the essay by Geneseo alumni Davina Ward who proposed that violence sometimes can be a form of care, one line especially kept circling back to me:

 The implications of what has been learned are far more important than what is learned by itself. There is always a moment of introspection when one learns something, a moment of questioning  “Well what do I do with this.” That is the most important part, knowledge affects our actions, and our actions have more consequences than just our thoughts. 

I wholeheartedly agree with this statement because it gets to the heart of why upper level critical thinking should exist (and why teachers teach!) This connection of knowledge to action, explains why humans do violence against humans. A person or people group acts upon a belief they think is true.

In the literary work, Cities of the dead: Circum Atlantic Performance Joseph Roach wrote on how origins tend to dictate worth. The “Echo in the Bones” chapter closely exclaimed the Europeaon slave trade in the 18th-Century. The rational being that a person’s origins from the continent of Africa or Caribbean Islands made them expendable. Spike Lee’s documentary of ”When the Levees Broke” maneuvered away in  Act III from the devastation of a natural disaster of Hurricane Katrina and the lack of federal government response to an intentional look at a class of citizens whose zip code origins carried the label “lower ninth ward”.  The violence done in letting ruined homes, debris and even dead bodies go unattended, Lee suggests pretty strongly, is evidence of motive that the delay would discourage homeowners from returning to their origins, so wealthy business owners would be free to buy up the land for financial gain. This is violence done on the sly. Yet, some could make the case that the practices of capitalism increases wealth, and wealth increases opportunities, which in turn, improves personal lives, because increased wealth gives way to more freedom.  I recently watched Adam McCay’s satire ”Don’t Look Up”, a film released in 2021. In one pivotal scene the Midwest working class parent of the college student (played by Jennifer Lawrence) who discovered a comet hurtling toward our planet and will certainly destroy all life, not just human, meets her daughter at the their locked porch screen door and says, before she will let her daughter enter her home that, “We don’t want to discuss politics. We are for jobs that the comet will bring”. The backstory is this: The CEO of a massive  corporation has discovered that this comet, projected by scientists to destroy all life on the planet, has rich deposits of minerals that, if harvested successfully by his corporation, will make billions of dollars. So, the White House has decided to not attempt to strike out the threat that will destroy life on our planet, but capitalize on it first, then deal with the problem of the comet. Many are incredulous and outraged that life on our planet would not first be put into consideration; making money is the first choice..  The film does a great job of showing how the power of social media shapes how people think, drawing on their emotions, instead of “ moment of introspection when one learns something, a moment of question, a ‘well what do I do with this’ “ as stated by Divina Ward above.  The implications to Climate Change are obvious in “Don’t Look Up”. Viewers are left shaken by the foolish callousness towards life, which ended in violent death for all living things.  

Moving away from the racial violence done in the European slave trade, and the more subtle social-economic violence incurred on the citizens of New Orleans, and McCay’s satire film, the remainder of the essay will take a critical look at the laws involved in the legal practice of abortion in the United States. A practice legalized nation-wide in the 1973 Roe v Wade Supreme Court case that was overturned in June of 2022 from the ruling of the U.S. Supreme Court case Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health.  According to that has an editorial section explaining current and relevant court issues the Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision leaned heavily on the 14th Amendment. In particular the fundamental, yet not directly stated rights, that so heavily peppers our U.S. Constitution, that grants “substantive due process”.  What that meant at the time of Roe v. Wade  is that “The majority in Roe held that any constitutional right to privacy ‘is broad enough to encompass a woman’s decision whether or not to terminate her pregnancy.’ ”.

What Justice Alito wrote in his ruling on the case Dobbs v. Jackson  Women’s Health is this:  “any such [substantive due process] right must be deeply rooted in this Nation’s history and tradition . . . [t]he right to an abortion does not fall within this category.” He added that  “In interpreting what is meant by the 14th Amendment’s reference to liberty we must guard against the natural human tendency to confuse what that Amendment protects with our own ardent views about the liberty that Americans should enjoy.” It is his phraseology of:

“We must guard against the natural human tendency to confuse what that Amendment protects with our own ardent views about the liberty that Americans should enjoy.”

that catches my attention the same way Ms. Ward wrote, “There is always a moment of introspection when one learns something, a moment of questioning , ‘Well what do I do with this’ ”. The emotions that the issue of abortion elicit in people on both sides of the issue, my own included, are so strong, are so firmly trenched in preconceived notions of who is vilely wrong: They want to kill babies! v. They are pushing women backwards!  The real issue of the right to abort is what is life and what is its value? What is an unborn child? It is a question of origins. If a parent cannot legally terminate their two year old child, their two week old infant, despite the inconvenience, personal cost, and extreme inconvenience of having the care of said toddler,  infant, then where exactly is the line of demarcation of In Utero v. Born?  Personally I love the institution of law because of its symbol/ effigy: the blindfolded lady standing between the scales of justice. It harkens to the standard that preconceived notions and ideals are not permitted. A hard look at reality and precedents (which all law is based) is. 

 In the book Unfathomable City: A New Orleans Atlas the co-authors Rebecca Solnit and Rebecca Snedeker attempt to meticulously show the shape, history, and uniqueness of New Orleans.  Chapter Four opens with these sentences:

“Just as New Orleans is a place of unclear boundaries between land and water, so it is a place where the boundaries of life and death are thin, in the most spiritual and brutal ways. It is a place of visions, of devout faith, of mystics and spirits, of the remembrance of ancestors, of family visits to the graves of the gone-before on All Saints’ Day-as well as a place punctured over and over by murder”. 

An essay is contained within chapter four of this book written by Nathaniel Rich that opens with these two sentences: “In most parts of New Orleans, if you plunge your arm into the ground to the depths of your elbow, your fingertips will touch water. Your fingertips might also touch other fingertips”.  Because of the murky land/water which is New Orleans the dead do not stay politely buried and out of view. They resurrect because the ground is more water sac than hard earth.  Later he writes, “This soft, shifting landscape poses a specifically cartographic problem, because mapmakers ordinarily draw clear lines and delineate coherent bodies: this is land, this is water”.…”the lines blur and melt”.

 New Orleans is so unique in its semi-permanence.

Likewise, the real problem that exists with the abortion question in the United States is a critical look at viability. Viability is very close in meaning expendable.  Is it a life or not?( Is it land or water?)  The slave trade thrived in the United States despite our eloquent Bill of Rights saying all men are created equal because of its own clever clause in the Constitution;  Article one, section two of the Constitution of the United States declared ”that any person who was not free would be counted as three-fifths of a free individual”. In other words, the origin of Black African American descent was not quite human, and therefore not as viable as the rest of us, meaning of course, White Europeans.  In terms of abortion does this murky blur of in utero humans justify violence? For abortion is a violent medical procedure. It is absolute violence of a class of human that is expendable. As the poet Anne Sexton wrote in rhetorical form in her candid poem “The Abortion”, someone who should have been born is gone. Written sometime in the 1960s. Can violence be self-care? Anne Sexton suffered acutely from mental breakdowns after the birth of both of her children, because of severe postpartum depression. So, some would say “yes”.  Anne Sexton committed suicide in 1974, despite fame and literary success. She won the Pulitzer Prize in 1966.  Can violence that ends life, produce anything good, even when it seems that it  can lead to more health and freedom for some? Because the womb is murky, shrouded in the darkness of blood and water and unformed bodies, do those multiplying cells not matter?  Should a fetus in utero be likened to a toxic appendix that needs to go? Human biology says a fetus in utero is distinctively different from the mother’s internal organs. 

Lastly, keep in mind, some Planned Parenthood doctors, before the severed fetuses get crammed into garbage bags to be carted to the dump, harvest those cells and body parts to be sold, for medical purposes.  It is more profitable if this is performed outside the womb, thus making the fetus not in utero, but born, which is illegal. In this case it is not murky water, it is clearly a born child. The undercover journalism work of David Daleiden confirmed this on July 14, 2015 with his investigative piece titled “Human Capital Project”. The storm that followed, including a push for defunding Planned Parenthood of Title IX money, around 60 million dollars of taxpayer money, saw a surge of Planned Parenthood mission statements across the country: CARE NO MATTER WHAT. Its bold black font against a bright pink square sprouted like mushrooms on t-shirts, laptops, and hydro flasks, in a matter of days. It is their rallying cry. It seems good and reasonable. However, from the critical thinking asked of me in this class I am questioning the “no matter what” of their rallying cry. What is the what? The What is violence for money.  A lot of money. The Circum Atlantic Slave trade made a lot of money because humans of African/Caribbean origins were in the murky waters of not being as viable as European Whites. In the Untied States the new republic prospered, which helped other struggling financial families, because of the slave trade. History glances back and calls it what it was, anyway; violence that was wrong.  The families who lost their homes in the 9th ward of New Orleans to Hurricane Katrina were unjustly served because of their zip code origins, by letting their homes and in some cases actually dead bodies rot, in the open, in hopes that what belonged to them, their pride and identity, could eventually make a lot of money. I am sure it would create a lot of jobs too. “We are for the comet because of the jobs it will create”, said a mother to her child in Adam McCay’s satire ”Don’t Look Up”; and that decision led to the destruction of life on the whole planet.  The decision to not carry out a pregnancy, because children are expensive, carry a huge emotional toll, seems like life-affirming health care. I suffered from severe postpartum depression after my children were born, so I understand. I was very sick the entire nine months. My teeth started to rot because of the amount of acid that washed over them from all nine months of throwing up. We did not have much money either, sometimes we had to borrow money from family to pay our electric bill.  But those reasons gloss over the real issue: the violence done to a living human, primarily by an industry that makes an enormous amount of money off of it. History and our conscience implore us to think critically about the ethics of abortion.  “…knowledge affects our actions, and our actions have more consequences than just our thoughts”.  Violence in the form of ending a life for the sake of self care will never shift a culture for the common good. We are finally learning this lesson with the care of the planet, and I think it is reasonable to critically think about it in the care of in utero humans. 

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