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Reprod Health Matters. 2004 Nov;12(24 Suppl):157-66.

Fetal discourses and the politics of the womb.

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  • 1Department of Anthropology, College of Social Sciences and Philosophy, University of the Philippines, Quezon City, Philippines.


Discourse on abortion rights inevitably centres on the fetus, and is often framed around the dichotomy of "pro-life" vs. "pro-choice" positions. This dichotomy is not, however, the only framework to discuss abortion; concerns about the fetus have found varied expression in theological, legal and medical constructs. This article examines discourses on the fetus from the Philippines, Iran and the United States, to show how complex they can be. It examines laws punishing abortion compared to laws punishing the murder of children, and also looks at the effects of ultrasound, amniocentesis and stem cell research on anti-abortion discourse. Although the fetus figures prominently in much legal discourse, it actually figures less prominently in popular discourse, at least in the English and Philippine languages, where terms like "child" and "baby" are used far more often. Finally, the article highlights the need to examine the experiences and narratives of women who have had abortions, and the implications for public policies and advocacy. It is important to expose the way anti-abortion groups manipulate popular culture and women's experience, driving home their messages through fear and guilt, and to show that pregnant women often decide on abortion in order to defend their family's right to survive.

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