Fetal Death, State Power, and the Anti-Choice Movement

To the argument, increasingly common, that the mourned death of a fetus indicates a value in fetal life that the pro-choice movement somehow elides, a simple point. When mothers mourn the loss of a child they sought and desired to bring to term, and when they sue on the basis of the loss of that expectancy, or ask the state to prosecute it, the law vindicates the mother’s interest in potential life.

When deciding whether to criminalize abortion, that interest is off the table. The fact pattern assumes it away, because the prospective mother desires to forfeit her expectancy. Rather, the only question is whether the state’s interest in potential life defeats the prospective mother’s continued interest in the integrity and control of her body. The law is powerless to make a woman want to bear a child, even if it eventually forces her to do just that.

This conflict between the state and the individual is at the heart of the abortion debate: no matter how you choose to frame the morality of the abortion debate, it is about control. Either the state tries to substitute its judgment for the woman’s, by bombarding her with abusive imagery and medical information until she changes her mind, or it simply ignores her lack of consent, by foreclosing all medical alternatives to childbirth.

We might take this as further proof that there’s nothing individualistic about modern conservatism — at least not when it comes to the lives of others.


  1. Are you talking about fetal homicide bills?

    1. I think he’s talking more about the “So-and-so regrets her abortion, therefore abortion availability is bad” sort of argument. The problems with fetal homicide bills (declaring a pregnant woman’s life more valuable than a normal woman’s life) don’t seem to be the ones he’s addressing here.

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