This writing is in response to current events happening in the U.S. South and to all of the feminist femme voices I heard that wanted to know where all the feminist men’s voices are. Here is an example of my connections and thought processes, the value I place on asking questions, and my desire to listen and understand.
Content Warning: questions regarding multifetal pregnancies, definitions of consciousness, and assignment of rights.
Once upon a time, a woman in her late 60’s told me the story of how she ate her twin. She looked into my baffled eyes and gently stated that she still feels her twin with her, like a second consciousness quietly residing in her body. A presence which makes no demands for attention, is not large by any means, and yet sets a claim on her space. A presence which, though invisible, is different than a ghost.
The woman, Lena (that is not her real name), does not remember the incident. She and her fraternal twin were both developing in the womb, at the time. Somewhere along the line – sometime before either had received a name – her twin’s life ended. Lena gives me another indecipherable look and says, “I ate him.”
As of 2019, Washington State has a population of about 7.6 million. Therefore, there are approximately 7.6 million different perspectives on comparing and contrasting a human being with human tissue, and then discerning the timeline in which human tissue becomes a human being granted full human rights.
1945 was the year that the phenomenon of Vanishing Twin Syndrome was first described. When this occurs in a multifetal pregnancy, the tissue of the lost fetus is absorbed by the placenta, the mother, and the other fetus. When this happens, it is typically during the 1st trimester and often goes undetected. Occurrences in the 2nd or 3rd trimester are not as common, and also signal a need for much greater caution in the health of the mother and pregnancy.
Using the stance of the Pro-Life/Pro-Birth viewpoint, consciousness begins at conception. If this were to be the case, perhaps the logic would follow that in events such as Vanishing Twin Syndrome, the surviving fetus has performed a sort of cannibalism in participation with its mother. Or the developing fetus is in at least some way significantly, though partially, responsible for the death of its twin.
Can one hold the surviving, conscious fetus culpable for the vanishing twin?
Can one hold the mother culpable?
Was there competition involved in the evolution of the pregnancy?
Do intentions and concessions begin when consciousness begins at conception?
I am deciding for myself when it is that I believe consciousness begins. When does intention begin? When does the ability to give consent begin? When does the ability to invite begin?
Another complex scenario involves Assisted Reproductive Technologies, the most well known of which is in vitro fertilization. In the process of in vitro fertilization, a multifetal pregnancy may occur with 3 or more conceptions simultaneously and thereby – according to the Pro-Life/Pro-Birth opinion – consciousnesses. There currently is a procedure called “pregnancy reduction” performed to mitigate or minimize the risks of complications to usually one or two of the fertilized eggs and their mother. Under Pro-Life/Pro-Birth demands, pregnancy reduction procedures would be made illegal and women would be left with no choice… no choice… but to try to carry all the embryos to full term, with highly elevated danger to all life and consciousnesses most directly involved. And then, if all life and consciousnesses were to perish in that multifetal pregnancy, who, I wonder, would be willing to blame God?
Do frozen embryos fasten their own hopes for a womb to attach to?
Does the industry of Assistive Reproductive Fertilization honor the hopes and dreams that adults fasten to their embryos?
In terms of medical research, without access to the critical component of aborted human fetal tissue, much crucial work on finding treatments for HIV/AIDS has been blocked and suspended. This applies also to research being done to confront other diseases such as cancer and neurodegenerative diseases such as ALS and Parkinson’s. Human beings rely on human tissue in order to conduct studies for human healthcare.
I consider one more thing: Women are not the only ones who become pregnant. Folx who are non-binary become pregnant. Men who are transgender can also experience pregnancy. I wonder if Pro-Life/Pro-Birth believers would feel just as possessive of the unborn fetuses if they knew that the fetuses might belong to a carrying father or genderful guardian? Would they cherish the potentialities of that life as sacred and conscious at the instant of conception?
Is it accurate to say that Lena ate her twin?
As far as I can tell, no, Lena did not eat her twin. She was not aware, not intending, not consenting to what happened. Through involuntary physiological systems her twin was taken back into the body of their mother, placenta, and the surviving fetus she once was. Lena and her twin were in the womb at the time. A time when neither of them had names. A time when neither of them could communicate or remember any of their potential thoughts or feelings. A time when neither of them was fully conscious.
Yes, I believe life is sacred. Yes, I believe in the real grief or relief that may come from keeping or ending any pregnancy. Yes, I believe that women, non-binary persons, and men who are transgender, have full sovereignty over their bodies because they are fully conscious human beings with whole human rights. Only they know and can give their true intent, consent, and invitation.
Von Emeth Ochoa