Foetus and Feminism

Words like “pro-choice” did not even occur to her as they forced an iron rod into her vagina and, together with the blood, remnants of an unborn human being seeped out. She wept a little for the lost child and much more for the scalded part that was essential to her job. Shanno was a sex worker. The brothel owner could not afford her ‘wares’ to be mothers. Shanno had opted for survival on sleaze street. Brothels are secular, so she followed all faiths. No one would justify or hold back her abortion on the basis of religion.

Savita Halappanavar’s death due to negligence at the University Hospital Galway in Ireland has become a global issue largely due to that. A 17-week-old foetus is considered risky for termination of pregnancy. Unfortunately, she was miscarrying and in the state of unbearable pain asked the doctors to abort the baby. The reply they gave her has become a whip-mantra: “This is a Catholic country.”

Is it news that the Catholic Church is against abortion? Savita’s family is justifiably incensed; the denial of her right to terminate the pregnancy is a crime for which they ought to get justice. However, would there be such international outrage had the doctors cited medical reasons for their refusal to abort? Indian politicians who pay scant respect for women’s health and welfare have urged the external affairs minister to intervene and order an enquiry into this case. A report states that 12 women die every day in India due to unsafe termination of pregnancy.

Jodie Jacobson wrote in RH Reality Check: “Someone’s daughter, wife, friend, perhaps sister is now dead. Why? Because a non-viable fetus was more important than her life. Because she was left to suffer for days on end in service of an ideological stance and religion she did not share. Because a wanted pregnancy went horribly wrong, and, because as must now be clear, there are people who don’t care about the lives of women.”

If it is an ideological stance, would the lawmakers in Ireland even consider this example based on a religion Savita “did not share”? Some foreign newspapers have carried stories with large pictures of Savita and her family at her wedding, including a dance video of a private function. The motive seems to be to pit one culture against another, or at least to highlight that an ‘outsider’ had to suffer because of these laws. Last month, the first private abortion clinic opened in Belfast amidst protests. Why did it take this long for such a medical service to be available when it is public knowledge that women travel to England for abortion? Do activists believe one case will lead to a re-examination of the country’s archaic laws?

Every religion talks about the value of life. That they do not value the quality of life, are misogynistic, and follow a wholly patriarchal notion should make us wary about using their programmed responses to falsify the reasoning. In fact, most social norms too consider abortion as the last resort. How many women, even among the educated, take an individual decision to abort?


Let us digress and expand on the idea of choice.  By applying the argument that a ‘woman’s body is her own’ – an obvious fact – the onus shifts entirely on women. Where abortion or childbirth is concerned, this amounts to being the sole caregiver or guilt-ridden slave of chauvinistic tripe. Just as the Pill did not really empower women but made her accountable for her ‘freedom’, the womb has been desexualised as a pre-birth nanny.

Contemporary feminist literature, especially about sexuality, while apparently busting myths ends up as a Hallmark card celebration of feminine body parts. Take this: “I experienced some of the ‘thoughts’ of the uterus myself”, from Naomi Wolf’s ‘Vagina: A New Biography’.  Imbuing the sexual organs with emotions demotes physicality as a natural state. The woman becomes an addendum to the part: “Your vagina makes you a goddess. Or rather, ‘The Goddess’.”

A review in The Guardian had taken on Wolf by recounting her description of “a ‘bodyworker’ who attempts, through massage, to re-engage sexually traumatised women and who, Wolf relates in the book with a straight face, once saw an image of the Virgin Mary in a vagina”.

This is a concept that the male module employs effectively to worship women as divine pleasure-givers whose own contentment is essentially to procreate. It appears that female sexuality can only be sanctified as motherhood. It is not easy to discard the psychological baggage, the subliminal conditioning of creating that which is in God’s image. When an Indian intimate cleansing product was advertised as satiating the male, some women activists had raised objections using the convenient hitch of its ‘fairness’ claims. While owning up to the right to pleasure, I had written then that they seemed to look upon it as an individual activity. This too amounts to a quasi-virginal Madonna state.

The supposedly more open western society is also not immune to this. When Demi Moore posed in the buff in an advanced stage of pregnancy for Vanity Fair, she was legitimising pop culture through maternity. Angelina Jolie goes a step further by a public forsaking of the crutch of cohabitation to become the ‘adopted’ mother.

Where choice is concerned, there can be extremes. If widows could use the frozen sperm of the spouse because the couple were seen as “together”, according to Britain’s Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act, 1990, then at the other end a foetus born to a brain-dead woman was kept alive because it had the right to live. Savita might well have been saved had medical assistance opted to do so.

It is not only Ireland that has to think. We forget that in many parts of the world foetuses are discarded because they are female and infants are thrown in garbage bins because they are viewed as burdens. By some weird logic, this is justified as a choice by a society that has no respect for human dignity and for women.  It is the low self-esteem choice to be chauvinistic.

Farzana Versey is a Mumbai-based writer. She can be reached at http://farzana-versey.blogspot.com/

More articles by:

Farzana Versey can be reached at Cross Connections

March 19, 2018
Henry Heller
The Moment of Trump
John Davis
Pristine Buildings, Tarnished Architect
Uri Avnery
The Fake Enemy
Patrick Cockburn
The Fall of Afrin and the Next Phase of the Syrian War
Nick Pemberton
The Democrats Can’t Save Us
Nomi Prins 
Jared Kushner, RIP: a Political Obituary for the President’s Son-in-Law
Georgina Downs
The Double Standards and Hypocrisy of the UK Government Over the ‘Nerve Agent’ Spy Poisoning
Dean Baker
Trump and the Federal Reserve
Colin Todhunter
The Strategy of Tension Towards Russia and the Push to Nuclear War
Kevin Zeese - Margaret Flowers
US Empire on Decline
Ralph Nader
Ahoy America, Give Trump a Taste of His Own Medicine Starting on Trump Imitation Day
Robert Dodge
Eliminate Nuclear Weapons by Divesting from Them
Laura Finley
Shame on You, Katy Perry
Weekend Edition
March 16, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Michael Uhl
The Tip of the Iceberg: My Lai Fifty Years On
Bruce E. Levine
School Shootings: Who to Listen to Instead of Mainstream Shrinks
Mel Goodman
Caveat Emptor: MSNBC and CNN Use CIA Apologists for False Commentary
Paul Street
The Obama Presidency Gets Some Early High Historiography
Kathy Deacon
Me, My Parents and Red Scares Long Gone
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Rexless Abandon
Andrew Levine
Good Enemies Are Hard To Find: Therefore Worry
Jim Kavanagh
What to Expect From a Trump / Kim Summit
Ron Jacobs
Trump and His Tariffs
Joshua Frank
Drenched in Crude: It’s an Oil Free For All, But That’s Not a New Thing
Gary Leupp
What If There Was No Collusion?
Matthew Stevenson
Why Vietnam Still Matters: Bernard Fall Dies on the Street Without Joy
Robert Fantina
Bad to Worse: Tillerson, Pompeo and Haspel
Brian Cloughley
Be Prepared, Iran, Because They Want to Destroy You
Richard Moser
What is Organizing?
Scott McLarty
Working Americans Need Independent Politics
Rohullah Naderi
American Gun Violence From an Afghan Perspective
Sharmini Peries - Michael Hudson
Why Trump’s Tariff Travesty Will Not Re-Industrialize the US
Ted Rall
Democrats Should Run on Impeachment
Robert Fisk
Will We Ever See Al Jazeera’s Investigation Into the Israel Lobby?
Kristine Mattis
Superunknown: Scientific Integrity Within the Academic and Media Industrial Complexes
John W. Whitehead
Say No to “Hardening” the Schools with Zero Tolerance Policies and Gun-Toting Cops
Edward Hunt
UN: US Attack On Syrian Civilians Violated International Law
Barbara Nimri Aziz
Iraq Outside History
Wilfred Burchett
Vietnam Will Win: The Long Hard Road
Victor Grossman
Germany: New Faces, Old Policies
Medea Benjamin - Nicolas J. S. Davies
The Iraq Death Toll 15 Years After the US Invasion
Binoy Kampmark
Amazon’s Initiative: Digital Assistants, Home Surveillance and Data
Chuck Collins
Business Leaders Agree: Inequality Hurts The Bottom Line
Jill Richardson
What We Talk About When We Talk About “Free Trade”
Eric Lerner – Jay Arena
A Spark to a Wider Fire: Movement Against Immigrant Detention in New Jersey
Negin Owliaei
Teachers Deserve a Raise: Here’s How to Fund It