The NYTimes Whips Up More Moral Agonizing About Women’s Reproductive Rights – Enough!


Against the backdrop of a record breaking number of restrictions on abortion being proposed and passed at the state level, as high profile national politicians cut budget deals over the lives of women, as Christian fascist shock troops target courageous abortion doctors, the New York Times has decided to feature yet another article calling into question the morality of women who make their own decisions about their child-bearing.

In their August 14, 2011 Sunday Magazine piece entitled, “The Two Minus One Pregnancy,” the NYTimes agonizes about the ethics of reducing twin fetuses to a single fetus so that a woman can have one child instead of two.

The article attempts to portray its own agonizing over twin reduction as having nothing to do with abortion. For instance, in contemplating where the supposed moral difficulty in twin reduction lies, at one point Ruth Padawer writes, “Perhaps it’s because twin reduction (unlike abortion) involves selecting one fetus over another, when either one is equally wanted.”

However, the article is caught up in the same unscientific thinking that leads so many to believe abortion is – or should be – an agonizing decision, or a decision that should be denied to women outright.

The only basis for viewing the decision of a woman not to carry every fetus to term as a “moral” or “ethical dilemma” is the unscientific lie that treats fetuses like people, rather than as a subordinate part of a woman’s body.

And this is exactly what Padawer does. She even adopts the anti-abortion language that refers to fetuses as people, as when she writes: “Consider the choice of which fetus to eliminate: if both appear healthy (which is typical with twins), doctors aim for whichever one is easier to reach. If both are equally accessible, the decision of who lives and who dies is random [emphasis added].”

No. Fetuses have the potential to become human beings but they are NOT human beings – they are not independent biological or social beings at all – until they are born. In other words, there is no “who” when referring to a fetus.

Quite possibly, Padawer is “pro-choice,” but that doesn’t change the fact that she adopts the language and the obfuscating logic that has been fought for by those who would force women to bear children against their will.

Women do not need yet another article from the oh-so-“enlightened” NYTimes (or anyone else!) that “reports on” – and thereby whips up even more – moral agonizing and “ethical dilemmas” about fetal reductions or terminations of any kind. Women need the truth: fetuses are not babies and women are not incubators. If a woman wants to terminate a pregnancy – or reduce the number of fetuses she is carrying – she needs the right to do so on demand and without shame and without stigma.

If women are forced – or shamed or guilt-tripped or trapped for lack of medical options– into motherhood against their will, they are reduced to breeders. They are trapped into a lifetime of caring for children they did not desire, and they are judged if they do not make this the primary focus of their lives. All this also all-too-often traps women in oppressive, and even brutal, relationships with men.

In short, if women cannot decide for themselves when and whether to bear children, they cannot be free to participate fully in society. And if women are not free, then no one is truly free.

As such, there is no “moral dilemma” in women deciding for themselves the terms on which they will bear children. There is only a great moral good – to women and to society – in ensuring this right, expanding this access, and lifting any stigma associated with it.

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  • gordon

    “In short, if women cannot decide for themselves when and whether to bear children, they cannot be free to participate fully in society. And if women are not free, then no one is truly free.”

    Hear, hear, Ms. Taylor!  I am a great believer in the old saying that no one is free unless everyone is free.  I also completely agree that there is no moral dilemma involved here, although that is a separate issue.  I would still not agree with compromising freedom even if I thought there were a moral dilemma.

    And thank you for articulating the situation so clearly.  I was going to write a letter to the editor of the NYT Magazine myself about this piece, but I gave up trying to express my outrage.  In addition to the points you make, the article completely ignores the reality that, for many American women, the points are moot because they have no access to a physician who is willing to reduce or terminate any pregnancy.

  • littledoe

    Great piece – thank you, Sunsara!  You put my anger into words.