When a Baby is a Disease image

When a Baby is a Disease

Everyone know that an unborn baby is a baby. Most would not go as far as the State of Alabama, with its ruling that frozen embryos are children, but certainly by the time a woman knows she is pregnant what is in her womb is clearly a baby.

This reality received further confirmation last week with the government decision that those who lose a baby through miscarriage before 24 weeks can now receive a baby loss certificate. ‘Campaigners said they were “thrilled” that millions of families would finally get the formal acknowledgement that their baby existed.’ Baby.

We are confused about babies though. A recent article in the Journal of Medical Ethics makes the case that being pregnant should be viewed in terms of disease. In such a framework language shifts substantially from ‘baby’ to, ‘Like a disease, pregnancy is caused by a pathogen, an external organism invading the host’s body.’

The goal of this is to reframe how pregnant women are regarded and the services they can access:

Pathologising pregnancy could, in fact, lead to better treatment for women. If pregnancy is construed as a disease and access to contraception and abortion as preventive medicine, it puts the provision of these interventions on a different footing. This is not about ‘family planning’ or reproductive autonomy, but about medical need.

This is revealing. We know that babies are babies. We know that they are human. To abort them is at best distasteful, and by all logic a form of murder. Everyone knows that; but in our cultural moment a woman’s reproductive autonomy is considered more significant than that reality. How differently we might feel though if rather than ‘baby’ we think ‘pathogen’.

It’s a clever play, and entirely in-line with other deconstructive linguistic moves: pregnant people; chest-feeding; people who menstruate. Or, as the Bible has it, ‘putting darkness for light and bitter for sweet’ (Is. 5:20).

It won’t wash. Those ‘millions of families’ haven’t been delivered from a pathogen; they know that they have lost a baby.

Keep pointing out the inconsistencies.


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