Fetal Position

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. I don’t think he’s crazy.



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.

Selective Outrage

We drink in our news from the sources we trust, through the lens we feel comfortable with, amidst the people with whom we fit.

I think I have something bad to say about the liberal media. Until I read this piece in The Atlantic, I doubted one existed. I know that the news media comes at their subjects with some pre-formed conclusions, that Rachel Maddow and Bill O’Reilly view the same facts through different lenses. I know that Fox leans right and MSNBC left, the Times left and the Wall Street Journal right. And I thought that even with this bias, the news gets out to the people, and some of the more critically minded count themselves among the well-informed, and the business of life goes on.

Admittedly, I consider myself a liberal leaning lefty. Beyond alliteration, I align my political views with the social policies of the day: gay rights, women’s equality and the increasing misalignment of the socio-economic classes in this country. I’m anti-death penalty, pro-gay marriage, and have discussed at length my stance on gun control. But I’ve never written about abortion. I have my views and they fit neatly within the political party I identify with. They would surprise no one.

But I don’t talk about it. Because even if I support a woman’s right to choose, it’s ugly. And heartbreakingly sad. Yet, I believe that that right is necessary and that it is a personal choice to be made. The circumstances that lead to this choice vary in the myriad ways that people vary. We would be hard-pressed to find two identical stories, but we can connect with each other over the experiences we all share. The emotional toll on the abortion debate is high. For those who oppose it, it is nothing less than the murder of innocents. I don’t dismiss that view, even if I don’t concur.

Like the gun issue, I think it’s bigger, if there is something bigger than human life. I think to consider the issue, we need to incorporate lots of other issues, especially how we marginalize and discriminate against the poorest and darkest among us, about how the first things to go are the social safety nets and not the tax breaks, and about how if women are forced by people who are pro-life to have babies they cannot take care of, they are abandoned too by a country whose concern for them extends only as far as their gestation. Beyond that, they need to pull themselves up by their bootie-straps.

Violence abounds with this issue and voices lower to whispers among the like-minded.  Yet, something gets lost when that happens. In Pennsylvania, so much was lost.  For years, laws were broken, racism abounded in a dirty abortion clinic, and bureaucratic red tape was sidestepped because this issue is too political to get involved with. Pro-choice people, like myself, have stated our cases so strongly that abortion clinics in Pennsylvania stopped getting regulated. They moved on. And a monster of a man named Kermit Gosnell murdered fetuses and babies and women. He spread venereal diseases with filthy instruments, performed a grisly amount of illegal late-term abortions, delivered live babies he then murdered, and employed underaged, under-supervised, and under-trained people to administer medication. He pawned his black patients to that staff, and let his white girls see “the doctor.” Some of them died. And though several people alerted authorities over the years, the complaints weren’t followed up on. So many agencies dropped the ball. Might it be because the clientele was primarily non-white and poor?

This was isolated. His practice doesn’t represent a single other doctor, or human being, other than himself. But the lack of media coverage highlights something. The way that I heard the name Kermit Gosnell was in an article tweeted by the Atlantic with the details of the grand jury trial and the case being made for more media coverage. Conor Friedersdorf compared the coverage that Rush Limbaugh’s reaction to Sandra Fluke received in the media with the details of this case. It has all the gruesome makings for a front page, but it hasn’t been one. Not the way Limbaugh’s “slut” comment was.

We’ve all chosen our sides by now. We know where we stand and are ready to defend those positions from wherever we are: in the news, on social media, in coffee shops and bars. We drink in our news from the sources we trust, through the lens we feel comfortable with, amidst the people with whom we fit. Religion and politics have long since been discarded as subjects we don’t talk about in polite conversation at the dinner table. Polite conversations went out long ago with the dinner table. We’re informed and opinionated, but the middle ground has been sacrificed in the social civil war of a dialogue that pits us for or against each other.

Certain segments of the media has chosen sides as well. Was the underreporting of Gosnell a case of the liberal media not wanting to lose political points because abortion is one of the absolutes? Criticizing abortion has so much consequence that connecting something so heinous with something we support will undoubtedly bring fallout. Yet, the conservative media, mainly Breitbart News  and The Heritage Foundation, are full of criticism of the lack of coverage, yet they hadn’t covered it either. Marco Rubio tweeted, “Media blackout of Kermit #Gosnell case is shameful but not surprising. Powerful example of msm bias in America today.” Rather than addressing the moral corruption of a story like Gosnell’s, the right is circumventing it in order to fry bigger fish: the left, who is now, with names like Anderson Cooper  and vehicles like Salon, on the story. Turns out, Slate’s Double XX column has been covering it since 2011.

We’re looking for a demon, someone to blame in the face of an unimaginable crime born of ugly circumstance. That crime doesn’t fit the narrative of the liberal media. Yet, the conservative media, instead of focusing on the devil in front of us, is trying to win political points by blaming the left, when they should blame, rightfully, Kermit Gosnell.

I came to my political beliefs because I believe there was a moral imperative and a right side (on the left.) It is something supported by my conscience, a way to root for the little guy, the huddled masses, those traditionally discriminated against. It’s because I think as a country we are as strong as our weakest link and by supporting women’s right to choose, I can reconcile those beliefs. My support hasn’t changed, but my absoluteness has.

I have been afraid of a lot lately. Gunfire, mostly, since Newtown. Not for me, but for my kids. But I’ve also been afraid of being wrong. That fear often keeps me from considering what the other side has to say. It has me looking to dismiss impassioned arguments from those I disagree with.

But worse than that, it has kept me quiet. In choosing staunch and irresolute sides, we lose the nuance of our beliefs.  And in the case of Kermit Gosnell, we lose our humanity.