Fort Hood and fetal personhood

Activists say the fetus of a pregnant shooting victim should be added to the official death toll

Published November 12, 2009 12:20AM (EST)

While some conservatives are arguing that "Jihadism" is the only relevant factor in the Fort Hood massacre, it seems others have a mind to sneak another contentious issue into the fray: fetal personhood. They have found their moment of opportunity in one of the 13 victims of the shooting spree: Francheska Velez, a pregnant woman. Now, antiabortion activists are arguing that the official death toll should be raised to 14 in recognition of the loss of her 9-week-old fetus. 

I will admit that as soon as I learned about Velez's death, I gasped. There is something especially tragic about a pregnant woman -- someone who ideally embodies all of the hope and idealism of bringing a new life into the world -- being senselessly gunned down. Upon hearing the news my imagination went wild conjuring up the joy of a soon-to-be father and expectant grandparents, and all of the potential they imagined within the fetus growing inside Velez. Then I pictured the family mourning the death of both this 21-year-old woman, a baby herself in the grand scheme of things, and her unborn offspring.

That doesn't mean I agree with antiabortion activists that the victim count should be 14, though. There is acknowledging the devastating loss of a pregnancy and the profound mourning that can accompany it, and then there's equating the loss of a fetus the size of a strawberry with the death of a fully realized human being. The latter is what Michelle Malkin, the folks at and other fringe outlets are doing in trying to get one more person added to the Fort Hood casualty list. Where I see a 9-week-old fetus with the potential to develop into a person, they see full-fledged personhood. Thus, they argue an additional charge should be brought against accused shooter Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan for the death of the fetus under the Unborn Victims of Violence Act.

Yeah, about that act. "Fetal rights" laws have long been a favored weapon in antiabortion activists' arsenal -- in large part because they appear deceptively nonthreatening. Under the guise of protecting pregnant women, they champion laws that actually take rights away from women and give them to fetuses. As Lynn M. Paltrow, executive director of the National Advocates for Pregnant Women, once told Salon: "In the name of fetal rights and protection, pregnant women have been forced to have unnecessary C-sections (in one case both the woman and fetus died), been civilly committed to mental hospitals and drug treatment programs, been arrested as child abusers for using marijuana to cope with morning sickness, and been charged and, in some cases, convicted of murder for suffering an unintentional stillbirth." The ultimate ploy here is to legally secure fetal personhood and then overturn Roe v. Wade -- because suddenly a woman who terminated her pregnancy would not only be considered guilty of an illegal abortion but also murder.

That's the danger in these heartstring-plucking arguments. Anyone familiar with the devastation of a miscarriage or the joy of an ultrasound can very well understand a pregnant woman's conviction that the stirring in her belly is a person, even if on an intellectual level she knows its potential for personhood is still unrealized. But these activists aren't interested in having a nuanced discussion about the emotional complexities involved in defining personhood. They're interested in one thing and one thing only: outlawing abortion.

By Tracy Clark-Flory

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