The 20 week abortion ban is creeping its way, state by state, across the country, and gaining momentum. As the conversation inevitably comes around to the debate about conception, contraception, the life of the mother, economics, rape, etc., we listen through the familiar slings and arrows for something definitive to hold onto. Some look in the bible, some in feminist treatises born in the sixties. And in those respectively ancient texts, we find that nothing much has changed in the argument. There are pros, there are cons, there is context, and little variation on a theme that wants to depict one side as evil and the other righteous, or pious, or good. We see it in every debate: the need to paint a good and a bad with little sense of meeting in the middle.
We see it in the talking points about Edward Snowden: hero or traitor? The national narrative is such that we need to choose a side, with little nuance for facts or context. The story this week that accompanies the newest abortion legislation is that of Republican Michael Burgess who rationalized that by 15 weeks, a fetus could be documented touching its genitals. From that he surmised that it must feel pleasure, concluding that it must also be able to feel pain. “Watch a sonogram of a 15-week baby, and they have movements that are purposeful. They stroke their face. If they’re a male baby, they may have their hand between their legs. If they feel pleasure, why is it so hard to believe that they could feel pain?” he said.
The lefty press has gone systematically batshit over that one, with loud headlines that scream of a bizarre congressman who alleges that fetuses masturbate. The focus is on painting this guy as a crazy nutjob who cannot speak definitively about fetuses, masturbation, or abortion.
As I’ve discussed before, my views on the abortion debate fit squarely within my liberal social views. I support a woman’s right to choose.
But I can’t subscribe to the narrative on this one. I don’t think the idea that a fifteen week old fetus can feel pain is crazy, nor do I believe that the notion of a fetus feeling pleasure, even from the genitals, is nuts. (Get it? Nuts.) A quick Google search tells me that the spinal cord is clearly defined and the spinal nerves start to stretch out from the spinal cord weeks 11-12 and by week 16 the baby can be seen grasping things, including the umbilical cord. S/he makes it’s presence ‘felt’ with kicking/waving movement. Week 20 has nerve cells making complex connections and sensory perception with the brain and the entire body. I don’t know when nerve endings in the genitals grow, but I do know that they are present way before sexual maturity. Babies touch their junk. Because it feels good. This isn’t sexual. This is normal. Eventually, we tell our kids about privacy and appropriateness, but it’s part of learning about their bodies. Sucking thumbs feel good and comforting to babies. We can see fetuses sucking their thumbs in the womb.
To dismiss Representative Burgess’s statement as asinine and crazy does a disservice to those who want to move beyond the age-old narrative that has never gotten resolved. There are crazy extremists on both sides of this debate. Those who believe in their deepest hearts that killing is so wrong that they kill abortion doctors in service to their own twisted logic are wrong, and bad. Those who dismiss without consideration those who sincerely believe that each conceived being deserves life are also wrong, especially when they look only for a talking point with which to paint someone as off-kilter.
The real culprit here is the deadening of our debate skills, the means by which we hear different viewpoints and consider them. We have been counseled into extremes and absolutes: pro-life or pro-choice, hero or traitor, republican or democrat, good or bad. And with our pre-formed ideas of which is which, we are only looking at confirmation for these values. Thus, when someone in the opposition (because everyone in the South or on the pro-life side or with a capital R in front of their names is ripe for the enemy treatment), his words become fodder for faux admonition.
Upworthy has picked up this gauntlet and is on its way to the Heaven of high click-through rates and shares. (I could just be jealous). People I admire have accepted this baton and are running with the fetal masturbation punchlines and outrage. I am pro-choice. But I’m open to intelligent arguments about time restrictions backed by science. And I believe that the debate needs to go beyond the forty week gestation period and include a rational discussion about the party who will fight for the life of a fetus but abandon a baby born to poor economic circumstance.
But perhaps that makes me the jerk-off.