Monday, April 30, 2007

Peeking Into The Aquarium

William Saletan is an abortion expert and a centrist one, too. This means that what he writes on the issue will be taken seriously. More seriously than the rantings and ravings of feminists who are also women, I suspect.

Today Saletan has written about the idea that women contemplating getting an abortion should be made to watch an ultrasound of the fetus. This is something pro-lifers advocate because it is intended to make the women suddenly realize that it is a fetus they have in their wombs, not an aquarium fish! Wow. Saletan likes the idea, because it opens up the aquarium to the general public. He begins by noting that the recent SCOTUS ban on the so-called partial birth abortion relied partly on the method having part of the fetus outside the uterus, and he points out that this distinction is immaterial:

In other words, it's rational and constitutional to ban abortions based on how they look, not what they are. Inside the womb, a fetus bears just as much similarity to an infant as it does outside. But killing the fetus inside is OK, because the public won't perceive and be "coarsened" by what's being done.

That's a pretty cynical distinction. It's hard to accept if you see abortion as a woman's right. But it's even harder to accept if you see abortion as the taking of a human life. That's one reason why pro-lifers are turning their attention from partial-birth abortion to ultrasound, from the fetus outside the body to the fetus within. They're trying to open, in their words, a "window to the womb."

Pro-lifers are often caricatured as stupid creationists who just want to put women back in their place. Science and free inquiry are supposed to help them get over their "love affair with the fetus." But science hasn't cooperated. Ultrasound has exposed the life in the womb to those of us who didn't want to see what abortion kills. The fetus is squirming, and so are we.

Actually, what the ultrasound would show in the case of the most common early abortions is a minute dot, I suspect. But that is not what is odd about Saletan's piece. The oddness comes from the way he writes as a spectator of these horrid events, but a spectator who demands even more access to his viewing experiences and some respect for his expert knowledge of the sport he is watching. William doesn't have an aquarium but he knows a lot about its upkeep.