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Abortion: the US between fiction and political marketing

 Abortion: the US between fiction and political marketing

Now that the U.S. Supreme Court has just overturned Roe v. Wade, which allowed abortion, Bertrand Kiefer, editor-in-chief of the Swiss Medical Journal and bioethicist, takes up the pen to expose the ambiguity of the U.S. position.

Abortion: the US between fiction and political marketing

It is a time of moral ambiguity. For example, the fight against abortion that has raged in the United States. The whole thing is a farce. Not that the issue is irrelevant. But it has been instrumentalized and distorted. The debate is not about the terms of the debate. Among many conservatives, both evangelical and Catholic, the embryo is used as a mystical concept, in which the fate of humanity seems to be at stake and takes precedence over any other question of political morality. As if the actual fate of children, women, poverty, and ecological collapse were irrelevant in comparison.

Xenophobia and selfishness united under the anti-abortion banner

In the United States, conservatives linked to various Christian movements use abortion to hide a racist and patriarchal vision of society, which they claim strokes the ego and reassures many people, but at the same time makes them uncomfortable. Therefore, they promote a political narrative in a package, such as opposition to welfare and all immigration, rejection of gay marriage, lack of gun control, or denial of climate change. All of this is placed under the banner of anti-abortionism, which is sold as absolute and courageous protection of life, making a generally xenophobic and selfish morality seem noble.

By defending the embryo, it pretends to be in favor of weakness and vulnerability and to take seriously what is called the absolute value of human life. At the same time, this absolute form has the advantage of requiring no compensation: no care, no education, no costs. The duty of conservatives is limited to "saving lives." This makes them indifferent to the fact that it is mostly rich white men who rule and mostly poor women, often African-Americans, who have to bear the terrible burden of the abortion ban. Or perhaps even rejoice in it. Nor do they care about the fate of unwanted children, who are often condemned to a difficult life. On the contrary, their political harshness is disproportionate to the suffering they contribute to causing.

A threat also in Europe

In Europe, the fetus is also at the center of extreme right-wing politics. Likewise, in many catholic countries, the right to abortion does not exist or is threatened. Here too, a political package hides an ambiguity of intentions. Most opponents of abortion support a patriarchal world. A world in which the control of female sexuality serves to maintain a gender and, beyond that, a social hierarchy that (in their view) sustains civilization.

Even in Europe, these opponents are those who see a threat in any form of immigration, legal measures, or policies aimed at the common good. The fight against abortion is the visible part of the rejection of a society based on human rights.

When does the embryo become a human being?

The anthropological status of the embryo must be taken very seriously. When should respect begin? There is no simple answer.

  • At the moment of conception, as anti-abortionists believe?
  • But then, why not collect embryos-often healthy ones-that do not implant in the uterus and are cared for naturally?
  • And when will a cloned human being be respected, the day a laboratory does this manipulation?
  • Others believe that respect must be shown from the moment the cells are separated from the fetus and placenta.
  • Either from the first heartbeat or from the beginning of the electrical activity in the brain.
  • Others believe that it is necessary to wait until the fetus is viable outside the mother's body.

In reality, dozens of criteria may seem relevant. But it is impossible to choose one that is decisive. As always in nature, and in particular, in evolutionary and developmental processes, only a gradual evolution can be seen. The embryo is built, individualized, and humanized gradually, by leaps and bounds, but it is impossible to say without a doubt that one is more convincing than the other in determining the beginning of a human being.

The fight against abortion, a violent appropriation of women's bodies

This uncertainty entails an obligation of mutual respect and, above all, respect for women's rights. This is far from being the case. The fight against abortion is like a violent seizure of women's bodies and lives. It sets in motion a mise-en-scène whose result - or end - is to put them in an atmosphere of guilt and even terror. In the United States, where the Republican Party has built a huge system to overturn the right to abortion, including by winning over the Supreme Court, a war is being waged against women's personal freedom. The end of this right is already in sight.

To detect cycle interruptions that do not result in childbirth, some American states are considering preventive monitoring of all women of childbearing age. Although useful for fertility management, menstrual monitoring apps are starting to lose importance: they could be used as sentinels. In the state of Georgia, a bill has been introduced that would automatically prosecute women who miscarry for attempted murder. The police and society become voyeurs of the woman's body and judge her reproductive life.

A paradoxical male attitude

How can we understand that such libertine madness can be installed in a great liberal democracy? Perhaps it is not only a cheap morality but also a form of exorcism of that badly controlled and strange impulse that is procreation. And a macho appropriation of women's freedom and their strategic advantage in the management of childbirth.

However, the behavior of some men seems strange. Many of those who are against abortion are willing to propose (or impose) abortion in cases of unwanted paternity for which they are responsible. Therefore, every macho man should logically be in favor of abortion.

But the stakes are more complex. The paradoxical and counterintuitive principle enunciated by Frédéric Martel in Sodom, his examination of sexuality in the Vatican, applies: the more homophobic a prelate (or priest) is in public, the more likely he is to be homosexual in private. "Behind rigidity, there is always something hidden; in many cases a double life," Pope Francis said referring to sexuality. He should apply this aphorism to the rigidity of anti-abortionists.

In the face of biology, no literalism is possible.

In the leaked U.S. Supreme Court document [and confirmed by the Friday, June 24 ruling], conservative Justice Samuel Alito defended the overturning of 'Roe v. Wade (pro-abortion jurisprudence) based on a literal interpretation of the Constitution. A bit like the sects that defend a literal reading of sacred texts. Only, in the face of biology, no literalism is possible. "The very ways of defining the limits of humanity" have never been certain, Judith Butler reminds us. There is a "fundamental uncertainty in the fact of being human." To accept this vagueness and uncertainty of limits, to consider them essential elements of life, to transform them into culture: this is what it means to be human.


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