The abortion debate is red hot right now, with a democrat majority congress and a conservative majority supreme court. So, unsurprisingly, a number of pro-life leaning states have passed pro-life bills, hoping for democrats to react with legal challenges escalating the bill to the supreme court. With cautious optimism many pro-lifers are thinking that we might even see Roe v. Wade overturned within the next few years. This strategy is a legacy of the Trump administration and it’s triggering a lot of pro-choicers, as seen in the amped-up abortion-choice rhetoric.
Case in point, the following quote-meme has been circulating on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter allegedly exposing the tacit absurdity of heartbeat bills. These are pro-life bills guarding fetal humans against abortions from as early as 6-weeks development.
Originating with OccupyDemocrats, this meme first crossed my sights on Facebook after several celebrity reposts. The text seems to be a loosely derived quote drawn from Carliss Chatman’s 2019 article in the Spokane Review titled “If a fetus is a person, it should get child support, due process and citizenship.”
As far as memes go, this is certainly not the worst pro-choice rhetoric. It’s actually pretty intelligent. Chatman is weighing the implications of a heartbeat bill, and sure enough, the prolife seed therein looks like it could blossom into a larger socially conservative ethic. That might seem absurd to people who are committed to radical individualism or who have no significant place in their social ethic for responsible parent-led families. But, to many pro-lifers like myself, it’s really a breath of fresh air for people to face the wider social implications of humanitarian ideals. As she’s making a pro-choice argument, we can’t expect her to represent the pro-life side terribly well. But she is on to something here.
With all that said, does this quote-meme constitute a strong objection to heartbeat bills specifically or pro-life ideals generally? Not really. And here’s why.
1. “If a fetus is a person at 6 weeks…”
We don’t need to establish fetal personhood for abortion to be wrong, whether at 6-weeks or any time reference. Abortion could be wrong on a number of other grounds. It could be cruel-and-unusual. It could be an unjust punitive measure inflicted on innocent parties. It could be racist. It could be sexist. It could be ageist, or abilist, or dehumanization, or just physical harassment. Of course, countless pro-lifers readily affirm fetal-personhood, including me, and although we affirm it even before 6-weeks – from conception onward – but we do not necessarily need to establish fetal personhood for abortion to be wrong on other grounds. It’s not as if “murder” is the only immoral thing there is and the only grounds for issuing protective laws. “Murder” isn’t even the only kind of unethical or illegal killing. There’s also poaching, negligent homicide, manslaughter, etc.
2. “Is that when child support starts?”
There’s always a risk when using rhetorical questions in place of an argument, because someone – like me – can answer your rhetorical question in a way that derails your implicit argument. In this case, I think it’s a great idea to have child-support start when the child-starts, at conception. A 6-week starting point would be a good start. Of course we’d need to work through the details of what that kind of policy would look like. Good ideas may need some polish and trade-offs before they can be wisely applied as social policy. Abortion-choice policy has, unfortunately, translated “gender equality” in terms of child-abandonment. Just as men can “walk-away” from an unplanned pregnancy, bailing on the pregnant girlfriend, abortion levels the playing field allowing women walk away from unwanted pregnancies too. But child-abandonment is a terribly reference point for measuring social equality. It makes far more sense, morally, to use care-giving as our reference point for measuring social equality. That means holding fathers up to a reasonable standard of care-giving since the mothers already are dealing with unplanned pregnancies. Undoubtedly, many women would find the courage to reject abortion and choose life if they knew that the father would pay for child-support during pregnancy.
Following this train of thought, It makes good sense, to me at least, to raise the monetary cost of abortion so it more closely matches the social cost of abortion. If abortion just costs three-hundred dollars or so, then deadbeat boyfriends will gladly fork over the money so they don’t have to pay the higher cost of fatherhood. But if the mother stands to miss-out on a couple thousand dollars over the course of her pregnancy if she aborts, then the pragmatics aren’t as clear anymore. Abortion isn’t as appealing.
3. “Is that also when you can’t deport the mother because she’s carrying a US citizen?”
But personhood doesnt’ equal citizenship. This line is probably the weakest link in her rhetorical chain. We can acknowledge the humanity, personhood, and human rights of someone who’s not a U.S. citizen. That individual still should be treated with the basic dignity of a human being even if certain civil rights apply only to citizens. Carliss Chatman has overplayed her hand here.
4. “Can I insure a six-week fetus and collect if I miscarry?”
That’s up to the insurance company, but you can probably find a company somewhere willing to cover that. Indeed that could make a lot of sense in cases where a big trust fund, a celebrated family name, or sizable inheritance is on the line. Most insurance companies are private so they can insure all sorts things like record collections, professional relationships (as did Abbott and Costello), or prized body parts like mustaches, taste buds, or Jennifer Lopez’s celebrated $27 Million policy on her butt. There are even insurance policies covering alien abductions and accidents from falling space-satellites. For more examples see 10 of the Weirdest Insurance Policies We’ve Come Across (hni.com)
There might be a practical obstacle to this idea. Namely, insurance fraud. It would be pretty easy to defraud insurance companies by taking out a policy on the child-in-utero and then inducing a miscarriage or clinical abortion. Abortion clinics, after all, are not required to report their stats to any central agency, and they tend to be very secretive anyway (most clients don’t want to broadcast their abortions). That means a woman could maintain her anonymity even while committing life-insurance fraud. Perhaps these liabilities can be ironed out, and insurance companies undoubtedly would find ways to leverage their risks, but the potential for exploiting children-in-utero and death-profiteering should caution us against hastily supporting the idea of pregnancy insurance.
5. “Just figured if we’re going there we should go all in.”
I fully agree. If we are going to pass a heartbeat bill at 6 weeks, then why not invest the time and energy to restructure our culture and laws so that we can, once and for all, implement a consistent humanitarian social ethic across the entire landscape of society. I’m going all in. Who’s with me?
Citizenship and Fetal Personhood
Chatman, isn’t saying anything terribly controversial. And since most of her points can be readily absorbed and affirmed by heartbeat bill advocates, then she hasn’t raised a serious objection to heartbeat bills. She’s still mistaken in assuming that personhood equates to citizenship. Foreigners are people too. And human rights can apply where civil rights do not.
Nevertheless, underneath the surface of this provocative meme lurks an important conversation we should be having, about whether fetal humans should qualify as a nuanced class of “citizen.” Perhaps they deserve provisional citizenship, like a green card. That could be hammered out according to the unique circumstances of children-in-utero. I don’t have any big proposals here, but just a serious consideration of what pro-choicers think is an absurdist objection to heartbeat bills. Maybe those levels of social responsibility look “absurd” inside a sexually libertine worldview, common in pro-choice circles. But from a humanitarian ethical perspective, we pro-lifers can readily affirm bodily autonomy, personal and social responsibility, as well as equal human dignity for all human beings womb to tomb. And we can principally support efforts to install family-friend and humanity-affirming policies like heartbeat bills. They are steps in the right direction. Hopefully improved child-support laws and other civil rights laws can follow suit.