A miscarriage of justice

Paul Raven @ 27-06-2011

I have shamelessly cloned the MetaFilter headline for use here, because there’s no better phrase to use in the context of American prosecutors attempting to sentence women who have miscarriages as murderers.

As the first MeFi commenter puts it, “[w]hy does this all feel like William Gibson and Margaret Atwood had a novel together?”… or we could ask why it is that Charlie Finlay’s short story “Your Life Sentence”– repeatedly attacked at time of publication as a straw man argument or hang-wringing panic about “something that could never happen here” – is looking more and more like a work of sociopolitical prolepsis.

Now, I have a well-earned reputation here as an equivocal fencesitter, but there are some things of which I am certain in my convictions, so allow me to draw this line in the sand. The war on women and womanhood – which is by no means exclusively American, right-wing or fundamentalist in its origins, but certainly seems to cluster around those axes – is disgusting Medieval bullshit, and it shames the nations in which it takes place. How can the same staunch Christians who support this intrusion of patriarchal law into the very bodies of women say with straight faces that Islam is a repressive and old-fashioned theocracy that must be fought into submission and reform? Look to the beams in your own eyes, gentlemen.

To be clear: you are perfectly within your rights to believe that personhood begins at conception, and that abortion is murder in the eyes of your chosen deity; indeed, the pro-choice framework incorporates and allows you that inalienable right, should you want it. But the moment you start insisting that everyone be bound by the same archaic and unscientific dogma that – inexplicably – helps you sleep at night, I will deploy Proudhon’s declaration as a universal: whosoever lays their hands on another to govern them is a tyrant and a usurper, and I declare them my enemy.

This is non-negotiable. Your jurisdiction over what should and should not be done to a body extend no further than the outer layer of your own skin. Your opinions on motherhood, abortion, contraception and ob/gyn practice may be enforced upon no womb other than your own.

And yes: that means that if you don’t possess a womb of your own, and never have done, you can shut the fuck up.

[ Comments are closed on this post, so if you’ve got hatemail you’ll have to send it to me via the contact form or Twitter or whatever. But here’s a caveat for you: by contacting me about this post and the views expressed within it, you explicitly grant me – in perpetuity – the right to publish the full unedited content of said communications along with the identity of the sender. ]


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. ]


NEW FICTION: YOUR LIFE SENTENCE by C C Finlay

Paul Raven @ 01-07-2010

There are many different types of science fiction, from the classic Competent Men in their gleaming spaceships to the noir-tinged dystopic cities of cyberpunk. C C Finlay‘s “Your Life Sentence” is another type again, and maybe one of the most important and powerful – the sort that asks “what will happen if this carries on?”, but which asks it about something that’s – all too sadly – well within the boundaries of the possible.

Though I believe he started writing it before then, we received Charlie’s story not long after the announcement that the House and Senate of the State of Utah had passed a bill that would criminalise miscarriage. A dark serendipity, perhaps, but it makes “Your Life Sentence” one of the most timely stories we’ve ever published here. I hope you enjoy it.

Your Life Sentence

by C C Finlay

You sit in the bathroom, pants puddled at your ankles, and stare at the vase of orchids on the marble counter: the blossoms curl like purple teardrops.

Brandon, your husband, raps on the door.  “Hey!  Did you fall in?”

“Out in a second,” you answer.  For added verisimilitude you rattle the toilet paper roll.

“Well, call me if you need a lifeguard.”

You hate the joke.  “Sure thing,” you answer with saccharine cheer.

You live in a world that requires the bravado of false cheer.  For the past several days you’ve suffered from the too-familiar cramps, but you’ve been in denial, blaming the iffy paella valenciana at the restaurant two nights ago.  No more.  Only the deep breathing techniques you learned in Lamaze class the first time you were pregnant ease your panic.

“Honey!”  Brandon pounds at the door.  “We don’t want to be late.”

No, you don’t: the weekly doctor visits are a condition of your parole, after the second pregnancy.  Even you think that’s only fair.

“Almost done,” you answer.  A shudder runs down your spine, like a finger dragged across a keyboard badly out of tune.  You rise and pull your pants up.  The bowl flushes automatically, but you refuse to look back.  You tuck in your blouse, yank open the door.

Brandon stands there with a shoe in one hand and a big dumb grin on his square face.  “Know what week it is?”

“No,” you lie.  He leans over for a kiss and you dodge him.

“Week nine,” he says, laughing as if it’s a game.  “We’ll have the doctor fill out the Certificate of Conception, then call your parole officer.  Then if we have to check you into the hospital for the next thirty weeks–”

“Thirty weeks in the hospital — that’s almost like prison.”  You grab your keys and purse from the dresser.

“We’ve just got to stick to the plan,” he says earnestly.

Brandon has a plan, an answer, for everything.  It’s why you married him, and you liked that about him for a long time, even after you realized most of his answers don’t work for you.  “I think I left my ring in the bathroom,” you say, because you left it in the bathroom.  “Can you get it for me?”

“Sure!”

As soon as he turns away, you go to the garage.  You’re already driving down the street when he dashes out the front door.  He hops after you on one foot, still holding the shoe, shrinking in the rearview mirror as you speed out of the cul-de-sac. Continue reading “NEW FICTION: YOUR LIFE SENTENCE by C C Finlay”


Neo-eugenics – the ethics of pre-natal screening

Paul Raven @ 23-06-2009

babyThe better we get at sequencing and manipulating the genetic codes that make us who we are, the more inevitable it is that we find ourselves faced with opening the Pandora’s Box of eugenics. Indeed, you could argue we’ve already cracked the lid and peeked; this report from the European Molecular Biology Organization points out that screening unborn kids for Down’s Syndrome is a form of eugenics:

These abortions are eugenic in both intention and effect—that is, their purpose is to eliminate a genetically defective fetus and thus allow for a genetically superior child in a subsequent pregnancy. This is a harsh way of phrasing it; another way is to say that parents just want to have healthy children. Nevertheless, however it is phrased, the conclusion is starkly unavoidable: terminating the pregnancy of a genetically defective fetus is widespread. Moreover, because none of the countries mentioned above coerce parents into aborting deformed fetuses, these abortions—which number many thousands each year—are carried out at the request of the parents, or at least the mothers. This high number of so-called medical abortions shows that many people, in many parts of the world, consider the elimination of a genetically defective fetus to be morally acceptable.

There are plenty of other mutations that can be screened for as well, but the nature of the tests means they’re not done across the board:

However, such tests probably do not markedly decrease the mutational burden of a nation’s newborns. Usually, a fetus is only tested for a specific mutation when its family medical history indicates that there is a clear risk. If, as must often be the case, parents are oblivious to the fact that they are carriers of a genetic disorder, they will have no reason to undergo a prenatal diagnosis, which is both expensive and invasive. Fetuses are also not tested for de novo mutations. However, given that many—perhaps most—parents want healthy children, should all fetuses be screened for many disease-causing mutations?

To myself at least, the question’s a total no-brainer – of course they should. If science isn’t for improving the quality of life of as many people as possible, then what is it for? [via FuturePundit; image by Hammer51052]

But as we well know, not everyone would agree – and recent events have demonstrated the extreme measures people are willing to take to voice and defend that belief, despite the inherent hypocrisy of murdering someone you consider to be a murderer. Thankfully such extremists are a minority, but abortion remains an emotionally charged issue, especially where religion comes into the picture. Rational logic dictates that giving every parent the choice is the fairest compromise, but rational logic fails when one side of the debate uses an appeal to a higher authority to deny the right of choice to everyone, regardless of their belief set.

Unlike Creationism – which I’m unafraid to label as a provably delusional philosophy – the ethical borders in debates around eugenics and abortion are fuzzy, based as they are on spiritual ideas that cannot be measured and tested in the same way as the geological age of the Earth. I don’t think anyone who believes that abortion is a form of murder should be forced to have one against their will, but nor do I think that those people should be permitted to deny that choice to others, be it by legal force, intimidation or worse. Whether there is a solution that will satisfy everyone remains to be seen – but as genetic science progresses, the need to reach that compromise will become more urgent. Let’s just hope we can find it without further bloodshed.


Offshore abortion boat defies Spanish laws

Paul Raven @ 17-10-2008

In a world that is increasingly flattened by technology and transportation, it’s getting harder for nation-states to impose restrictions on their citizens. Spain’s abortion laws are the latest to be challenged by Holland’s “Women on Waves” ship, which anchors in international waters offshore from countries with prohibitive stances on abortion to allow women the right of choice without fear of legal repercussions. [via Pharyngula]

When climate change turns entire nations into refugees and/or migrants, will geography cease to determine which legal system constrains you? Or will the notion of physical territory simply become atomised to the micro-scale, like the turf demarcations of London teenagers?