Ethics, NARAL, and the Miscarriage Art Project
It is as certain as anything under the sun: cynical and intellectually dishonest policy positions eventually lead to outrageous acts that expose them. For even the most indefensible and illogical positions are taken seriously by somebody. Yale Art major Aliza Shvarts has accepted completely the most cynical and indefensible contentions of the far pole of the women’s rights movement. She believes that a fetus has no more value on the scale of human life than a bunion. So she devised an “art project” that documents a nine-month process during which she artificially inseminated herself “as often as possible” while periodically taking drugs to induce multiple miscarriages. Her exhibition features video recordings of the miscarriages, as well as preserved collections of her blood.
Once your gag reflex has subsided, consider what is really going on here.
The problem with the abortion issue is that the two sides of the issue agree neither on which ethical systems apply nor on the basic conditions involved. Is an unborn fetus a human life, or isn’t it? If it is a life, the application of classic Kantian absolutist principles dictates that abortion is always wrong, because nothing justifies taking another’s life. Utilitarian principles allow a different result: an unborn fetus can be aborted, or killed, for a greater good. If an unborn fetus is not a human life, but simply a wanted or unwanted part of a woman’s body like a tumor, wart or mole, the ethical choices are simpler. Then utilitarianism and absolutism are likely to reach the same conclusion about the rightness of an abortion. This position, however, a blatantly political stance taken by the most extreme abortion-on-demand defenders like the national organization NARAL, is biologically, logically and ethically indefensible. It is a contention that exists specifically to avoid ethical objections. A fetus deserves more respect in law and ethics than a wart, which, I think we all can agree, will never, left unattended, manage to eventually graduate from Yale. A fetus is some kind of human life, carrying some value and weight as it is balanced against the desires, needs, and welfare of the woman who carries it. No matter what any of us may believe is true, proper or correct, the U.S. Supreme Court has decreed that a woman has an absolute legal right to end that human life of undetermined value in favor of her own welfare, however she chooses to define it.
But while we can—and do, and almost certainly will for the foreseeable future—debate what the declared value of that human life should be, almost all Americans feel in their hearts and minds that it has some value. And because it has some value, it is possible to designate certain entirely legal instances of a woman exercising her right to abortion as irresponsible and unethical, just as the exercise of any other right can take extreme and unethical forms. Similarly, while a woman has an absolute right to create a fetus, some acts of procreation are irresponsible and wrong. The act of procreation and the decision to abort both require some level of respect for the life—however one defines and values it.
In the years since Roe v. Wade, many stories of dubious abortion decisions have sparked debate and outrage. There was the woman who aborted her child because she didn’t want to buy a new wardrobe; another because she was afraid that her husband wouldn’t be attracted to her if she were “fat.” Many women have aborted fetuses because they were the “wrong” gender. Several have aborted healthy fetuses to convert an impending multiple birth into a single birth: those triplets would be too much trouble. There is the legendary golden girl who has an abortion so that she won’t bulge in her prom dress. But none of these women, as ethically objectionable as their choices may seem to some, went as far as Ms. Shvarts. For she took NARAL at its word: a fetus’s “potential life” has no intrinsic value at all when measured against anything the potential mother thinks is important, in this case, a revolting and tasteless art project. And then she took an additional leap of ethics logic, one that the pro-abortion movement did not see coming, but should have: if the fetus deserved no smidgen of the respect due to life, then its creation deserved no respect either. So why not produce fetuses by the score, to be used as props, to juggle, as cat toys, as fashion accessories, as fishing lures, or, as in this case, disposable subjects for a videotape? Yucky, perhaps but wrong?
Such is the thinking process pro-abortion rhetoric produces in Yale seniors, or at least one of them. To be fair, Aliza Shvarts is an especially strange Yale senior, and her pronouncements about her project, as reported by the Yale Daily News, make it hard to determine exactly what her thought processes are. After a Yale spokesperson declared that Shvarts told several deans that the project was really a “creative fiction,” and that she neither impregnated herself nor performed self-abortions, she responded that Yale’s statement was “ultimately inaccurate,” whatever that means. Then she appended this bit of artsy-fartsy double-talk: “No one can say with 100-percent certainty that anything in the piece did or did not happen, because the nature of the piece is that it did not consist of certainties.”
Oh, shut up.
Here is a certainty: creating any form of human life—or indeed life of any kind— for the express purpose of destroying it is an offense to every ethical system yet devised. Indeed, a “work of art” that consisted of killing mere beetles would be ethically wrong. Unless you think allowing flaming kitten displays at art exhibits would be good for society, this is not a difficult issue. But Shvarts’s acts bring into sharp focus the absurdity of the politically-concocted argument that a fetus is no life at all. Believe it, really believe it, and her disgusting “art” is no more ethically objectionable than “Piss Jesus,” the infamous artwork that consisted of a crucifix in a jar of urine. She is, for NARAL, the big chicken coming home to roost. Look at the callous attitude toward nascent life that follows from your cynical and disingenuous arguments: like it, do you?
NARAL obviously didn’t like it, knowing a lost cause when it saw one. When virtually every commentator, blogger, academic and artist across the political spectrum condemned Shvarts (as in, “we may not know where the moral and ethical lines here are, but wherever they are, you’ve crossed it, kid!”), the two extreme ends of the abortion debate weighed in. Some Right to Life spokespersons went predictably over the top and called her a “serial killer,” consistent with their contention that there is no difference in intrinsic value between the life of a recently fertilized egg and the life of a Yale co-ed. But NARAL’s response was really a pip. The organization recognized that it could not say, “Why the fuss?”, though that would be consistent with its official stance, and yet couldn’t condemn Shvarts for simply taking NARAL at its word. So, undoubtedly after an animated brain-storming session, such as one would hold to come up with a name for a new toothpaste, it came up with this:
“This ‘project’ is offensive and insensitive to the women who have suffered the heartbreak of miscarriage,” said Ted Miller, a spokesman for the organization.
Oh, bravo! Applause, everybody! Creating and killing fetuses for a grade in an art class isn’t wrong because it trivializes the creation of human life and the destruction of human life; it is wrong because it is insensitive to the emotional pain some women suffer after losing that bunion, er, fetus. Shvarts was rude.
Faced with irrefutable and embarrassing proof of why its extreme position is both irresponsible, dishonest and harmful, NARAL-Pro-Choice refused to be accountable, sincere, or even logical, casting the entire issue as a straightforward matter of disrespect for women and bad manners. It is, in the words of Ms. Shvarts, “ultimately inaccurate” to hold her as the ethical miscreant in her Miscarriage Masterpiece. After all, she was only acting consistently with what good, young, pro-choice advocates have been taught to believe. The serious ethics offense has been committed by those who distorted the terms of an important and difficult ethical decision that society and civilization must make, and then couldn’t muster the courage or integrity to admit that a foolish and disgusting art project has proven that they were wrong to do so.