On December 17, Newsweek published a cover story featuring the digitally-manipulated image of a “relatively late-term” fetus depicted without reference to the mother. In the article, Kurt Eichenwald argued that the solution to the “brutal stalemate” between pro-choice and anti-choice groups was for both sides to bankroll policy measures (such as universal daycare) to support lower-income women who choose to give birth.
In a December 18 article for Elle, In These Times' Sady Doyle criticized Newsweek's choice for a cover image. She explained that she “was flabbergasted” by the choice to use what she described as: “a computer-enhanced illustration of a well-developed, relatively late-term fetus with no sign of the actual person in whose uterus it is presumably housed.” Doyle criticized Newsweek for using an image that looked “more like a baby” to describe the current controversy surrounding abortion access and cited a “long history of fetal images being used to scare people and rile up anti-abortion sentiment.” She concluded that by minimizing the material effects of the abortion debate on the person carrying the fetus, Newsweek perpetuated a problematic narrative that ignored the decisions and experiences of many pregnant people:
Which is why I was flabbergasted by Newsweek's cover image: a computer-enhanced illustration of a well-developed, relatively late-term fetus with no sign of the actual person in whose uterus it is presumably housed.
At a guess, it looks to be between twelve and fourteen weeks along - just at the upper limit of the fetal age for most abortions, or a bit older - although given the nature of its digital, um, “improvements,” it's hard to tell. For one thing, if the Newsweek fetus is twelve weeks along, it looks about five times bigger than the translucent, two-inch-long fetuses you normally find at that stage; this image looks less like an actual pregnancy, and more like an adorable computer-generated alien.
Or, to be blunt: More like a baby. And, given the presence of the word “ABORTION” in all caps, we can assume it's not going to be around for long. Intentionally or not, the Newsweek cover sums up what's wrong with how we talk about abortion: Everything is about the fetus, which is humanized, and the actual pregnant person is erased.
Granted, I'm only talking about the cover, here -- not the story inside, but there's a long history of fetal images being used to scare people and rile up anti-abortion sentiment. It's why mandatory ultrasound laws exist. It's why anti-abortion protesters hold up gory, bloody images of fetuses at protests, and why “crisis pregnancy centers” (anti-abortion organizations that market themselves as abortion and pre-natal care clinics) show unsuspecting pregnant people movies like “The Silent Scream,” which purports to show an ultrasound of an abortion in progress. Supposedly, you can see the fetus screaming in pain.
But talking about the fetus, and what it looks like, is beside the point. All of these scenarios involve a decision made by one person: a woman. (Or non-binary person, or transgender man.) Deciding whether to stay pregnant is not about the fetus. It's about them: their lives, safety, and futures. By focusing exclusively on fetuses, and promoting the imagery of endangered, persecuted “babies” in the womb, people who oppose abortion are able to totally avoid talking about the ways in which their positions endanger and persecute the actual people carrying those fetuses around.
Newsweek may not have intended this, but putting the phrase “abortion wars” next to a fetus ignores so many of the casualties of these wars. It ignores Robert Lewis Dear's victims, murdered abortion doctors, and rape victims forced to carry their rapists' children to term. It erases poor women forced to have children they can't afford, and people who aren't able to pursue educations because they had children too early. It leaves out any person who wants to control their own body, but can't, because of abortion restrictions. Put “abortion wars” next to their faces, and you get a whole different message - one that's much closer to the truth.