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Jan. 24 2003 2:34 PM

Personal or Political Loss?

Is grief over miscarriage inconsistent with pro-choice politics?

Politics of loss: Much of the Fray response to Emily Bazelon's and Dahlia Lithwick's Book Club on miscarriage  consists of shared stories of personal loss (I've marked some, but they should be read whole). There is a substantial current that thinks women who grieve when they miscarry are either being inconsistent or dishonest when they support abortion rights. The best debate on the subject comes early on, in a thread begun by logicat-2. logicat attributes  grief over miscarriage to "anti-abortion propagandists":

They have peddled the notion … that fetuses are the same as babies and that therefore to lose a fetus - be it by miscarriage or by abortion - is as painful and traumatic and heartwrenching as losing a child. It's not …

ElboRuum thinks  denying women's reactions is just more evidence of an underlying fear of choice, whatever logicat's legal position might be:

acknowledging death or loss or trepidation about ones own decisions, in my humble opinion does little to pander to the anti-abortionists. When things end, humans react. It's that simple …

saying that one form of loss is greater than another, in the esteem of all, not only is fundamentally flawed a concept, but flies in the faces of the people who value the concept of choice itself in the most egregious way, by taking it away from them.

The best turn in the debate, though, comes in the next exchange. Temaj-2 sees the range of women's reactions as a political challenge for the abortion rights movement here:

I think the abortion rights movement needs to be able to confront some of the ambiguities surrounding abortion, rather than sweeping them under the rug as logicat would have us do. The fact that women who have had abortions have a range of emotional reactions may not be politically convenient, but truth often isn't.

ElboRuum disagrees. A woman who grieves makes a bad target for demonization; she's too human:

That people can make this choice and have normal human emotions dispels the notion of what the anti-abortionists would love to paint as a callous act perpetrated by callous people. It humanizes loss, whether that loss be necessity or accident, chosen or happenstance. It puts the argument in terms everyone can understand, and that deflates the primary thrust of the anti-abortionists, that people who would consider having abortions are morally bankrupt individuals who should not be permitted that choice.

And as long as we are stressing humanity, historyguy points out here  that

There's a tragic irony in this sentence:

"Layne observes that feminists are generally much more comfortable celebrating happy outcomes than they are grieving for a lost fetus . . ."

A preference for happy outcomes over pain does not distinguish feminists from the rest of humanity. Both happiness at the celebration of a birth, and discomfort at grieving, can be found in every social and political stratum. I'd bet that miscarriages affect women of the left, right, and center, whether working or at home, similarly--and awfully.

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