Life imitating sf: Criminalisation of the Female Body edition

Paul Raven @ 21-02-2011

There’s a long-standing tendency in science fiction circles to wheel out the few isolated examples of successful predictions embedded in sf stories; who hasn’t been reminded, in tones of awe and/or satisfaction, that the late Sir Arthur C Clarke “invented” the geostationary satellite*? Heck, I’ve done it myself. It’s a pride thing, I guess, even for those of us who know damn well that science fiction isn’t about making predictions; I suspect it stems from the underdog status of the genre, causing a desire to justify its existence to those who consider it worthless. But I digress… as I often do when gearing up to deliver grim news.

There’s no pride or joy in being able to hold up Charles Coleman Finlay’s Futurismic story “Your Life Sentence” as a successful prediction. Indeed, it’s the sort of story I’d hope would help prevent the events it portrays becoming true, and – according to Finlay himself – was repeatedly rejected by other venues as being “too implausible”. Which makes the news that a Republican legislator has introduced a bill that would not only criminalise abortion, but also place the burden of proving that a miscarriage was naturally caused on the woman who suffered it, a sad and anger-making thing to hear.

Sadder still is the revelation that attempts to pass such a law are a yearly occurrence. The more I watch the control-obsessed thrashings of America’s religious far right (and their imitators elsewhere, in the Middle East and even here in Britain), the more I have to chant my own personal mantra of faith: that these must be the frantic death throes of old ideas as they refuse to make the transition to a new phase of human society, the last twitches of a chrysalis from which something better and brighter might crawl.

They must be. Otherwise we really are completely fucked.

[ * Clarke didn’t invent the idea of geostationary sats at all, but he was apparently the first to suggest they’d be useful as hubs of a global communication network. ]

[ ** It should go without saying that comments defending the right of anyone to tell anyone else what they can or cannot do with their own body will be deleted. Bigotry has more than enough platforms already; go and find one. ]

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27 Responses to “Life imitating sf: Criminalisation of the Female Body edition”

  1. SMD says:

    It’s not just one guy attacking women. Most of the Republican party is attempting to tear down the foundations that have helped make women more secure in contemporary society. Everything from Planned Parenthood to redefining rape to birth control access. That last one is the most disgusting, since the same people who want to make access to birth control more difficult for women also want to make birth control easier to get for horses. I’ll let that roll around in your head for a while, because it’s pretty much effed.

  2. Sterling Camden says:

    Unfortunately, the history of these exploitations is as long as human history itself.

    Perhaps the one bright sign is that nowadays the majority of people feel justified in speaking out against them, whereas for most of human history they were considered right and normal by the majority.

  3. Athena Andreadis says:

    Alice Sheldon, aka James Tiptree Jr., The Women Men Don’t See:

    “Women have no rights, Don, except what men allow us. Men are more aggressive and powerful, and they run the world. When the next real crisis upsets them, our so-called rights will vanish like—like that smoke. We’ll be back where we always were: property. And whatever has gone wrong will be blamed on our freedom, like the fall of Rome was. You’ll see.”

  4. Nancy Jane Moore says:

    Athena, I love “The Women Men Don’t See,” but I hope we’ve come to the tipping point where enough women have enough power (and enough men have learned enough) to shape our own lives and stop this nonsense.

    BTW, Vonda N. McIntyre’s term for the anti-abortion, anti-contraception, anti-woman pov is “compulsory pregnancy.”

  5. Athena Andreadis says:

    Nancy, I’d like to share your optimism. But women’s rights across the world have been taking constant hits as religious fundamentalists come to political power; the US has been going backward full speed ever since reactionaries took over not just politically but also socially.

    It looks like human progress goes in cycles, rather than linearly. The problem is that if we go backward enough now, we may never recover because we’ve exhausted easily obtained/shaped resources. Reverting to a pre-tech existence will devastate us at this point and close the window to space exploration for good.

  6. Nancy Jane Moore says:

    Athena, I share your concerns; I just feel strongly that women need to be reminded that they are capable of fighting back. Assuming that male power is insurmountable isn’t good for us, though it’s also dangerous to assume that just because you’re capable of fighting, you’re sure to win.

    One thing’s for sure: stories about this sort of thing are not “unrealistic.” And since Futurismic was one of the markets that understood this, it makes it doubly sad that you all aren’t publishing fiction anymore. Quick, someone come up with a way for Futurismic to make money so it can afford to pay writers (and its editors, too).

  7. Athena Andreadis says:

    Nancy, you know better than most that I don’t assume male power is insurmountable. If I did, I would have stayed home in Greece and lived in a fashion approved by the status quo. Nevertheless, it’s tiring — for progressive people of both genders — to have to endlessly square the same ol’ circles.

  8. jt says:

    It is important to note that elected officials can introduce just about any kind of crazy fuckin bill they want, with very little actual support. I don’t want to jinx anything, but it doesn’t have half a chance of passing.

    That said, if there was a way to completely remove conservative (read: woman/poor/minority-hating) politics from our country with the flip of a switch, I would flip that motherfucker so fast. It blows my mind that there can still be politicians with popular support that run on this kind of hate-based platform. About the only thing that keeps me going is the fact that in the last 200 years or so, it’s been a definite positive move forward. Everyone can vote, no more slaves, etc. (Isn’t it fucked up that we had slaves less than two centuries ago?)

  9. Karen Burnham says:

    I want to echo what jt pointed out: while legislation like this gets proposed with depressing frequency, it actually gets passed much more rarely, it gets signed by executive more rarely still, and almost none is allowed to stand by the Supreme Court. Legislation like this tends to be political theatre more than an attempt to have any impact on the real world, at least in the USA.

  10. Robert Koslover says:

    If I may comment, please. I am a pro-choice, pro-women’s rights, libertarian, pro-evolution, member of the Republican party. Much of the characterizations of all (or even many) Republicans above is simply unfair, especially in regard to women’s rights. It is both telling, and I find it to be quite sad, that the biggest examples of abuse of women’s rights that you all chose to cite here involve primarily America and its allies, rather than any of the dozens of absolutely brutal, fundamentally pre-medieval Islamic countries where women are both routinely and officially treated as either the legal property of men or as dirty/sub-humans who can freely and legally be beaten by their male husbands, fathers, and brothers for even the slightest of reasons, and can even be stoned to death for the crime (for all practical purposes) of *being* raped! And hey, just coincidentally, it is both conservatives and the Republican Party in the USA that are far more vocal and publicly critical of those monsters than is the Democrat party, the latter which far-too-often attempts to make excuses for these world-record misogynists, pretending not to even notice their brutality to women, and/or pretending that it is somehow the fault of Western Civilization and/or capitalism, rather than Fundamental Islam’s deeply misogynist culture. And finally, in regard to abortion specifically, although I am pro-choice, I am also well-aware of the quite serious ethical issues associated with abortion. Consider (as an admittedly extreme example) late-term “partial birth” abortions, especially when done on a healthy, fully-viable fetus (who, if born minutes later, would be legally not a fetus, but a “baby.”) Fortunately, partial-birth abortion of a healthy fetus is rare. But should it be legal? Surely, you can understand why a reasonable person might question the morals of abortion in such an extreme case, no? Well, don’t look to Planned Parenthood for support on that. And meanwhile, Planned Parenthood, for all the good it does, also has an unfortunate habit (as exposed by Andrew Breitbart and others) of illegally covering-up child molestations, child prostitution, and rape. Now again, I agree that Planned Parenthood does some good work. But they are hardly paragons of virtue, are they? In fact, I am sure that the vast majority of opposition to abortion by American conservatives is not because they hate women, but because they are honestly more concerned than either you or I am about the rights of the life of the unborn. The problem here is that in a pregnancy, there are TWO lives, and TWO sets of rights involved. Like you, I place the life of the rights of the mother ABOVE the rights of the unborn child/fetus. And, by the way, you should be aware that this “the-mother-comes first” view actually has much support in religious scripture, but obviously not all religions agree on this! regardless, let’s not kid ourselves. The death of an unborn human, whether by miscarriage or by deliberate abortion, is most-often a sad, tragic, and traumatic event. Sometimes, even many times, it is necessary. But not always. In the case of elective abortion, I personally think it should remain an entirely private matter between a woman and her doctor (preferably with as much sympathy as possible expressed by her close friends and relatives). I don’t want my government interfering in such things and I don’t want the government to make abortions illegal. But I try to understand, and I try not to insult, those who place a somewhat greater value upon the life of a fetus/unborn-child than I do. The genuine ethical dilemmas posed by abortion (in its many forms) are not going to go away any time soon. And it is intellectually dishonest for us to pretend that one side of the abortion debate is somehow clearly morally “right” and the other side is clearly morally “wrong.” It just isn’t that simple.

  11. Athena Andreadis says:

    Robert Koslover: Anyone who believes Breibart’s blatant lies (which have been repeatedly debunked) cannot be engaged in a serious conversation.

  12. Robert Koslover says:

    Athena, I’ve seen the videos and I find them persuasive, but I don’t seriously expect that to change your mind. Rather than argue about that, I would be most interested to hear if you have any comments about my other remarks. Regards.

  13. Nancy Jane Moore says:

    jt: Slavery actually ended in the US less than 150 years ago, and given that there was a ceremony over the weekend celebrating the 150th anniversary of the inauguration of Jefferson Davis as President of the Confederacy, it looks like we still aren’t through with the Jim Crow years. I agree with you that, on human and civil rights issues, we’ve made more progress than not in the U.S., but given the backlash we’re still getting on racial issues, I don’t think we can sit back on women’s rights.

    As for Robert Koslover: There’s a major disconnect between claiming to be pro-choice and bashing Planned Parenthood.

  14. Athena Andreadis says:

    Robert, I won’t engage in debate with you for the same reason that I don’t engage in debates with creationists.

    If you look at my comment #5 you will see this: “Women’s rights across the world have been taking constant hits as religious fundamentalists come to political power.” Republicans don’t “stand up” for Muslim women because they care. They use them as an excuse for war. They’re the ones who outlawed contraceptive help as part of USAID — and the ones who gave guns to the Taliban and other fundamentalists. Don’t conflate history with watching Fox and its ilk.

  15. Robert Koslover says:

    Athena, I am disappointed that neither you nor Ms. Moore seem to be willing to discuss, or accept, that even a pro-choice person can both notice and accept that there exist ethical issues arising in regard to at least some of the many varieties of abortion. Perhaps an analogy, even if less than perfect, will help: Are you a vegetarian? I am not. I eat meat. But at the same time, I am well aware that animals such as cattle, chickens, lambs, pigs, etc, can both feel pain and suffer, and that even if actions are taken to minimize that, these animals would surely not willingly sacrifice themselves to provide us with dinner. I accept this reality, and at the same time, I and others eat and enjoy our meat. But I also understand why an honest vegetarian might choose to do otherwise, and might even accuse me of being unethical to eat meat. I do not consider such people to be fools or dishonorable simply because they worry more about the ethics of eating animals than I do. But even if I understand and respect them, I would not choose to allow them make meat-eating illegal. Similarly, I also accept that in order to preserve both women’s rights and our many individual human freedoms for both men and women, abortions should be kept legal. That does not mean that unborn humans/fetuses have NO value, cannot feel pain, etc, or that their deaths are not tragic. Again, I simply place a higher priority on the rights and needs of adult humans (both men and women) than I do on not-yet-born humans. I have no doubt that extreme “pro-life” people will find me despicable for failing to extend FULL rights to unborn humans as young as a fertilized egg, while you seem to find me despicable for even allowing myself the luxury of ANY consideration of fetal human rights at all, despite the fact that in regard to the legality of abortion, we are entirely on the same side. Show a little tolerance, please.

  16. Nancy Jane Moore says:

    Robert, if you’re really pro-choice, why are you bashing Planned Parenthood? As for the medical procedure that you label with the loaded anti-abortion group term “partial birth abortion,” I think women in consultation with their doctors are more qualified — both ethically and scientifically — to make a decision on whether such a procedure is appropriate than are members of Congress. There may be some legitimate ethical questions there, but no one who has debated it so far has shown sufficient ethical grounding to make it a worthwhile discussion.

    If you are truly pro-choice, I suggest you devote your energy to making changes within the Republican Party instead of debating issues on the fringes with Athena and me.

  17. Robert Koslover says:

    Nancy, I am truly pro-choice. And I appreciate the fact that although you continue to question my motives, you are at least being polite about it.

    Athena, you say “I won’t engage in debate with you for the same reason that I don’t engage in debates with creationists.” Hmmm. Well, I’m guessing/hoping that you dismiss creationists for the exact same reason that I do, i.e., that except for those few special cases who limit themselves to presently-untestable assertions (e.g., that a God of some kind or other just might have created the Big Bang and then more-or-less let all else follow), most creationists tend to reject very clear scientific evidence which is incompatible with their views: most specifically, I cite their rejection of biological evolution. And in some extreme cases, they even insist that the universe is less than 6000 years old, rather than closer to roughly 14 billion years.

    Now, do you honestly believe that my comments about women’s rights (I support them) and abortion (I want to keep it legal) and Planned Parenthood (I think they exhibit questionable and disturbing ethics) are so vastly, gloriously, and irrefutably wrong that I deserve to be lumped in with creationists? And oh yes, let’s toss in that you also know far far better than I do that my fellow Republicans are necessarily all evil knuckle-dragging misogynists. Right?

  18. Athena Andreadis says:

    Robert, as far as I’m concerned you entered “whatever” territory the moment you invoked Breitbart as a legitimate fact source, and you augmented the impression by using such terms as “unborn humans”. You may want to discover the concept of paragraphs, by the way.

  19. Robert Koslover says:

    Nancy, I honestly thought that the term “partial birth abortion” was an essentially non-judgmental term, mostly from the clinical side of things, while some in the “pro-life” community tend to refer to it by “murder” and/or “infanticide.” According to Wikipedia, there is the alternative term “intrauterine cranial decompression.” Do you prefer that? That’s fine with me, but I’m nut sure how many people would know what procedure was being talking about. What is the most-accurate, clearest, and most unbiased terminology, in your view?

  20. Robert Koslover says:

    Athena, I apologize for my poor paragraphing and will endeavor to do better in the future. 🙂 .

  21. Robert Koslover says:

    Athena, by the term “unborn human,” I certainly did not mean to imply that such a [being? organism? fetus or embryo?] should be legally recognized as having a FULL set of what we call “human rights.” I apologize if I gave that impression and I can see why you would find it inconsistent with my pro-choice views. For example, to me, a just-fertilized human egg is entirely accurately called an “unborn human,” even if its “human rights” are still essentially zero at that stage.

  22. Nancy Jane Moore says:

    Partial birth abortion and pro-life are both loaded terms invented for the purpose of limiting abortion rights. Yes, I prefer using medical terms; we are talking about a legitimate medical procedure here.

    I don’t know where you get your information, but I see nothing problematic about Planned Parenthood, an organization I made use of myself when I was young and broke. The nonsense that’s been put out about them in the last few weeks is an effort to destroy one of the best women’s health care groups out there and is not credible.

  23. C.C. Finlay says:

    After Roe v. Wade, anti-abortion activists started looking for legal ways to establish that a fetus=human despite the high number of spontaneous miscarriages. The first step was to pass state laws allowing men who committed domestic violence against their pregnant partners to be prosecuted for two murders. These laws now exist across the United States. In Texas, for example, a 2003 law amends the definition of the word “individual” to include “an unborn child at every stage of gestation from fertilization until birth.”

    Here are examples of cases:

    Usually people (including pro-Choice activists) argue that fetal homicide laws only apply to 3rd trimester babies, as with Laci Peterson, where it would also be unlawful to provide an abortion. This argument is false. The laws were changed to include non-viable fetuses starting in the early 90s: There have been successful prosecutions under these laws for fetuses as young as 9 weeks:

    The fact that this is part of the anti-abortion strategy can be highlighted by the way their websites report on these convictions:

    The second step has been to prosecute men for murder under these laws for causing a miscarriage or killing a fetus even when they did not kill the woman.

    It has reached the point where a man can be convicted of trying to cause a miscarriage even if he can’t be proven to have actually caused it:

    The third step has been to prosecute women for causing miscarriage, either deliberately, or unintentionally because of drug use.

    The argument that these laws are proposed but not widely supported is wrong. In some states, these laws have had overwhelming support by the legislature and have come one signature away from law:

    It’s only a matter of time until the next one passes.

    Anti-abortion groups like this one on facebook ( make the argument public: “This group is for people who believe that abortion is wrong and should be made illegal. If a man kills another man, that is a crime, so why should killing an unborn baby be any different?” The language is carefully ambiguous- the first half of the sentence references only men, leading you to overlook that the second half of the sentence can be applied to mothers. But on anti-abortion bulletin boards like this one: no one bothers with plausible deniability and the argument against women is made more explicitly: “Murderers get sent to prison but yet women can walk into a clinic and kill an Innocent life force and walk out to freedom.”

    For the record, it’s not like I keep a database on any of this stuff. I found all these examples with approximately 45 minutes of googling.

    It’s all part of the deliberate back-door assault on legal abortion. The problem are the unintended consequences – the anti-abortion movement only wanted to make abortions illegal, but the strategy they’ve pursued and the logical conclusions that it leads to will result in making all miscarriages illegal, if not by law then by the Supreme Court. Ten years ago, when I wrote the first draft of this story the path was obvious to see but only if you were really paying attention. But so much legal precedence has been created over the past 15 years now that it will be hard to reverse, especially if so many of us continue to be in denial that it’s happening.

  24. Athena Andreadis says:

    Charlie, thank you for the Googling and for the story. It was hard to read, but it’s up there with Tiptree’s Screwfly Solution as a cautionary tale.

    Robert, you continuously use loaded words and insist “they are neutral.” In this you are exactly like a creationist or any other fundamentalist. You also indulge in mansplaining, in which men who have zero idea of something explain to women what it’s like (’cause we don’t know nuthin’ ’bout birthin’ no babies, Miz Scarlett). In your case, the self-satisfied trumpeting of ignorance includes gestation and nervous system function.

    It just so happens I’m a molecular neurobiologist who does research in brain function. A zygote is by no stretch of the imagination an “unborn human”. If that were the case, women would have been redundant — and, given the overall tenor of societies through time, would have dwindled long ago to trophies or museum exhibits (more here: Equalizer or Terminator? But even if in vitro womb equivalents appear, there’s a lot more that must happen before an organism develops from a zygote. It’s a dynamic process that depends on all kinds of local and global context.

    Another red herring is the malign insistence that a collection of cells can feel pain. Pain can be felt once there is a fully developed nervous system that can process and respond to input. For human embryos, that’s the middle of the third trimester.

    Spontaneous miscarriages represent well over a third of human pregnancies. The idea that any woman just has an abortion like she cuts a fingernail is idiotic and virulent. Laws around abortion are really a way to keep women’s autonomy in check by punitive measures. They have nothing to do with morality and everything to do with control. The old soundbite seems appropriate here: If men could get pregnant, abortion would be a sacrament.

  25. Robert Koslover says:

    Athena, you unfairly accuse me of saying things I did not say, of meaning things I did not mean, of thinking things that I do not think, and of believing things that I do not believe, while insulting me repeatedly, and pompously bragging about your own technical expertise. Even worse, you stereotype me as an oppressive male (i.e., your term “mansplaining.” Wow! Do you have the slightest idea just how outrageously sexist and condescending that is to a full 50% of the human race?) Well… enough already! You owe me an apology (actually several, and not just to me either, but to all men), but I fear that you are unlikely to recognize that. Until then, it is clear that there is no point in conversing with you further. Oh, and I’ll save you the trouble of posting your next comment, which will likely be something equivalent to “Good riddance,” followed by further insults, laughter, etc. Shame on you. But even more, shame on the people (and I have no doubt there were many) who raised you and taught you and indoctrinated you into becoming so judgmental, so intolerant, so sexist, and so arrogant. Since this will be my last communication with you, let me close by saying that I sincerely wish you luck and further success in your career as both a writer and neurobiologist, and that I hope your work in both those areas brings genuine value to the world.

  26. Athena Andreadis says:

    Robert, spare me the “Mommy she was MEAN to me” mosquito whine. Everything I responded to was in your comments on this thread and trying to bait-n-switch makes you appear weak-minded in addition to being a troll. If you want to do something useful, go convert some Teabaggers.

  27. Roberto Sumatra-Bosch - The Falcon of the Laurentians says:

    Planned Parenthood holds baby barbeques on Thursdays. BYOB. I read all about it at People coming over from the ACORN pimp training courses stop by for a snack. Everyone knows this by now.