Miscarriage of emotions in abortion debate

Article by Lauren Rosewarne /
ABC The Drum /
January 20, 2014 /

Click here to view original /

The dubious-taste story I like to tell is that my brother ate his twin in the womb. PacMan style.

The less humorous reality is that Mum thought she was pregnant with a single baby, miscarried but was then informed of a surviving twin.

My mum had a miscarriage. My grandmother had several. Aunts and friends and cousins and colleagues each have miscarried. Some speak about it frankly, others never say a word. And these women make up the surely-they-can’t-be-that-high statistics.

Late last week News.com.au published a unique take on the topic. A woman who had miscarried at 19 weeks. Who spent time with her child afterwards. Who had that time documented in photographs.

Positioned curiously under the first image was a trigger warning. That images might be confronting or upsetting. And like every Wet Paint sign in history, I ignored it. Puffed up and full of never-having-been-pregnant bravado, really, how much of a trigger could it be for me?

The tears came quickly.

And yet, as a multi-tasker at heart, amidst my sobbing I managed to squeeze in political unease.

Cards on the table, my feminism pretty much started with the abortion issue. At 16 I accompanied a pregnant friend to a clinic. There, in the car park, God-bothering crazies wielded grotesque dioramas. Pushed gorily-illustrated brochures at us. Had I any doubts beforehand, my politics were solidified at that very moment.

More recently, I walked onto campus on a Monday morning and over the weekend miscreants had festooned my building with anti-choice posters. Complete with imagery of those familiarly-detailed foetuses looking all womby and cosy.

Anyone with even the vaguest interest in feminist politics knows these images. They are, of course, the heart-string-tugging staples that the anti-choice militia use to control women’s reproduction.

And it’s the heart-string-tugging bit that’s getting to me today.

So, here I am looking at photos of a miscarried 19 week old. The “baby” – a word I am typing softly because, after all, its use is at the crux of the abortion debate – rests against his mother. And I can see all the fingers and toes and I am bawling my eyes out.

So if these images have such an impact on me – on someone who has been passionate about abortion rights for as long as I can remember – what impact do they have on those harbouring politics that sway a little more to the right?

For the record, no amount of tears on my part could change my views here. I can both vehemently support the right to choose at the same time as thinking abortion is not a cakewalk. And I like to believe lots of people can.
But what about the undecided? Those disinclined to separate emotion and politics?

On the surface sure, this is just a story about one woman who went through something tragic and who wanted to share an experience that is astonishingly common and yet paradoxically shrouded in silence.

This makes perfect, painful sense to me.

And yet, I’ve got the tears and the finger-and-toes counting and an aching awareness of the political football that abortion remains in this country.

So should news.com.au have published them?

I am anti-censorship. Equally, I am pro people grieving however they see fit, with as much or little emotion or supposed “decorum” as desired.

But do those images have a role in public space? Can I fear the impact they’ll have on other people less firm in their views on reproductive rights? Is this an occasion where it’s okay for someone to play Thought Police?

Some of the remarks in the comments section, predictably, validated my fears: “Babies in utero are indeed babies with little hands and feet and not a blob of cells.” And, “That child was real, it was a person, not just a bunch of cells.”

Feminists know these comments.

This story was about making real – about personalising – a pregnancy that didn’t make it to term.

Such personalisation however, is the default arsenal of the anti-choice zealots who wield words like “murder” while showing photos of teeny tiny hands and feet.

As moving and heart-breaking as the article is, having been published, it no longer exists as just a private and moving story but becomes part of the discourse, part of the angst felt about reproductive rights in this country.

And with that comes responsibility.

The cynic in me wonders if this wasn’t part of the editorial decision.

© Lauren Rosewarne