Before I ever carried a fetus in my body, I was convinced purely on instinct that fetuses weren’t people. I understood intellectually that the concept of fetal personhood would revoke my personhood, and understood the reasons behind some ancient religious declarations that the fetus is not an autonomous being until it emerges. Although the fetus becomes more and more LIKE a person as it develops, and is potentially viable if delivered after a certain gestation, law needs specifics and lines. Thus ancient Jewish law said that if a person’s actions caused a woman to lose her pregnancy, that person had to pay a fine as though they had stolen a possession from her; but if someone caused the death of a born infant they would be liable for murder.
I can see how this concept would be unwieldy for someone who has never carried a fetus or considered these issues, especially so for someone who will never carry one or personally see a birth, miscarriage or abortion. In this world, plenty of men and other good citizens of the patriarchy are confused about whether adult WOMEN are or aren’t people with bodily autonomy. So it follows that they would be even more confused about the status of a developing human inside the woman about whose possible personhood they are already confused. One could see women with wanted and healthy pregnancies and think those are the only pregnant people who exist; one could consider a beating heart; one’s mind can leap toward the future of a potential child; and we can succumb to Western culture’s arrogant confidence in medicine to work magic.
A fetus is beautiful, miraculous, human, special, a gift, and alive, gloriously alive – but it is not a person. My 11 week old fetus has its own DNA and yet is a part of me. Its heart beats (I have heard it already) and yet it depends on my organs for its oxygen, nutrition, and its very blood. It is developing the structures and systems it will need for life on its own, and yet if I needed an abortion, for any reason, including not wanting to be pregnant anymore, I would have one with no regrets.
I believe all, or most women, who have carried a pregnancy have this knowledge instinctively. The first time around we gave our fetus the whimsical nickname “Hostos” after a vocational school in the Bronx that we happened to be passing by with a friend, who joked that we should call it that. We enjoyed many jokes about the silliness of the name, and as I felt the kicks and hiccups of this developing human, I wondered if the name would continue to stick after it was born. We did not know the sex and hadn’t yet chosen a name.
Incidentally this is part of the reason I never ask pregnant people if they know the sex or have chosen a name.
As if to prove my instinctive knowledge that a fetus DOES transform into a person after it is born, the moment I held him I forgot the nickname. I thought of it some time after and laughed to think that our little boy, who now had a name, could have been the same creature we named so whimsically. He was the same creature… and he wasn’t.
Now in my second pregnancy, I can say unequivocally that my fetus is not a person and will not be until it is born. This knowledge reinforces my desire to not find out the sex, not choose names, and of course to give it a whimsical nickname, one worthy of a beautiful, mysterious creature who is not yet a person but will eventually, God willing, grow to be one. We are calling it The Radish Spirit.