Fictional fetuses and the right to life

By Kellie Quinn

On Nov. 8, voters in Mississippi shot down an amendment that would grant personhood rights to a fertilized human egg. This amendment, had it passed, would have labeled abortions as murder and would have subsequently banned almost all abortions, even if the pregnancy was the result of rape or incest. Additionally, this amendment would intrude even farther into womens’ reproductive health and outlaw certain methods of contraception. Intrauterine devices (IUDs), and morning after pills like “Plan B” would be banned because they can prevent fertilized eggs from implanting in the uterine lining. According to Planned Parenthood, there is actually no data to support this claim as an IUD’s purpose is to prevent fertilization in the first place.

The inspiration behind the amendment was undeniably religious and supports the belief that life begins at conception. Embryos and fetuses are humanized by this sort of political movement, and it does not help that movies and television often reinforce this stance. When unplanned pregnancies are portrayed in films and television, abortion is often quickly dismissed as out of the question. In “Knocked Up,” Jonah Hill’s character comes across as insensitive when he suggests the baby be taken care of via a “shashmortion.” In “Juno,” title character Juno is talked out of getting an abortion when she learns the baby has fingernails. But are fingernails really the defining factor for determining what is human? Is that how we define life, whether or not fingernails are present? That is how it comes across in “Juno,” that the fetus is a person because it has fingernails. But realistically, is it our fingernails that define us as humans? What if you lose your hands in an accident? Are you then no longer a person since you are without fingernails?

These messages make embryos and fetuses seem more human-like than they actually are. A fetus is not even considered as such until 10 weeks, before that it is still only an embryo. At 10 weeks it is only about as large as a strawberry, at 12 weeks it is around two and a half inches in length. Approximately 88 percent of abortions take place before 12 weeks, meaning before the fetus is even as large as your thumb. Granted it has fingernails, but is this how we define personhood? Or is it defined by the ability to feel pain because 12-week-old fetuses can feel pain? If this is the case then individuals with Hereditary Sensory and Autonomic Neuropathy, a disorder that inhibits the ability to feel pain, would not be people.

What is it about these embryos and fetuses that are so human-like? Is it the potential for the life they have? If so, then should we then be basing more policies based on potential? Why are we seeking to remove rights from fully developed humans for the purpose of granting additional rights to humans that do not have much, if any, brain processing yet? Furthermore, why are we allowing fictional mothers and babies to influence how we feel on the issue when we have real people we are not paying attention to?

The media is out to influence public opinion, and does so extremely successfully. It is the responsibility of the audience to separate a fake situation from the real world scenarios that political decisions should be based on.

Pop culture is influencing the political sphere as it defines what we consider to be a person. But it is irresponsible to create such a strict view of life through fictional stories. Instead, the film and television industries should be creating plot lines that have more variation and people should be paying attention to real stories. Furthermore, if they are using unplanned pregnancy as part of the storyline it need not be in a way that makes it seem evil. There does not need to be any more support for legislation that aims to deny rights to adult women in favor of providing rights to unborn embryos and fetuses.

Kellie Quinn is a Collegian columnist. She can be reached at [email protected]