Ultrasounds are causing trouble for pro-choice advocates. At the Federalist, Mollie Hemingway takes on the abortion incoherence of Cosmopolitan magazine. Hemingway notes that last year Cosmo came out as a liberal publication that supports pro-choice politicians. (The magazine would never endorse a pro-life candidate, Cosmopolitian.com’s editor assured readers.) Yet the other day, it ran a piece about the “disturbing” effects smoking has on unborn babies, with ultrasound images included. Here’s Hemingway:
I mean, here we have a magazine that just weeks ago was complaining about a bill that would ban abortions after the point at which unborn children feel pain. So they’re totally fine with offing a child in utero even in late-term abortion — but they don’t want that same child to have to deal with cigarette smoke?
If you think an unborn child doesn’t like it when her mother smokes, can you imagine her reaction when her body is dismembered or her heart is pierced?
The enormous cognitive dissonance on display here is not unique. In 2014, in England, a case came before the Court of Appeal (England’s second-highest court) in which a local council sought compensation for a child seriously damaged by her mother’s drinking habits while her mother was pregnant with her. According to the suit, the child was born with “foetal alcohol spectrum disorder,” which causes ” learning, development, memory and behavioural problems.” In a country with lax abortion laws, in other words, a tribunal ruled in favor of compensation for a child injured while she was still in utero.
If that decision had stood, the UK would have been in the untenable position of saying abortion is all right but drinking while pregnant is not. In the end, the lower court’s decision was overturned by a higher one and the Court of Appeal upheld this second decision. Still, the fact that the case was brought—and that a lower court ruled in favor of compensation—exposed a crack in the edifice.
In both cases, regarding drinking and smoking, you see the new moralism about health surfacing. In an age of organic food and health-conscious yuppies, in which smoking is one of the gravest of social sins, the health effects on unborn babies can become another rhetorical weapon in the health movement’s arsenal.
That movement, combined with new medical technology, poses a serious problem for pro-choicers. As medical science enables fetal viability at an increasingly early age and gives us a clearer picture of fetal development (and how smoking and drinking affect that development), we can expect to see more incoherence on display. Humans can live with a lot of cognitive dissonance, but over time events have a way of bringing contradictions to the fore—and forcing a choice one way or another. In the case of abortion, that choice may hinge on how powerfully affected people are by images like the ones in Cosmopolitan.