Missing Angels

The Dec. 11 issue of People Magazine reports on the Missing Angels movement, a group of bereaved parents who are lobbying state governments to issue birth certificates, as well as death certificates, for their stillborn babies. Founder Joanne Cacciatore, an Arizona social worker, recalls the pain she felt when she called the state’s bureau of vital statistics for a birth certificate for her daughter, who was born dead on her due date, and “the woman on the other end said, ‘You didn’t have a baby, you had a fetus.'”

Parents like Cacciatore say the certificate helps them grieve because it acknowledges that their child was a real person whom they lost. Abortion rights activists won’t stand for that:

In most of the bills, a stillbirth is defined as the unintended intrauterine death of an unborn child of at least 20 weeks’ gestation – problematic, according to Elisabeth Benjamin, director of the Reproductive Rights Project of the New York Civil Liberties Union, because “a child would have rights independent of the mother. We prefer the word ‘fetus.'”

Now, I don’t pretend to have a solution to the abortion dilemma, but this kind of cognitive dissonance is unsustainable. I thought feminism was about listening to women’s voices and validating their experiences. If the only way to make abortion acceptable to the American public is to pretend the baby never existed, pro-choicers have to wave away the deepest sorrows of women who feel they lost a wanted child, either to medical mishap or violence. What’s next? Should women feel guilty about putting sonograms in their baby albums? I just don’t understand how it can be a “baby” if you’re happy about it and a “fetus” if you’re not. And neither would most people, I suspect, if forced to look straight at the issue.

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