Earlier this month, the New York City Health Resource Administration unveiled a series of posters designed to combat teen pregnancy. The posters have drawn widespread criticism, including drawing fire from both sides of the abortion debate. The primary complaint is that they stigmatize pregnant mothers, and that’s valid. There’s an even more sinister message, however, but it’s not drawing as much attention because it’s much more subtle.
Think about the logic of that statement: “I’m twice as likely not to graduate high school because ou had me as a teen.” The unstated question is: As opposed to what? By waiting, could you have had this child at a later stage in your life, a stage when this child–this particular curly-haired kid–would have had a better shot at life? No. You couldn’t have had this child at any other time. You would have had a different child.
What the poster is implying is that human beings are interchangeable. If you get pregnant at 17 your kid is more likely to have a bad life. If you get pregnant at 27 they have a better chance. But it’s not the same child. Conception is the moment when a new organism is created. Unless you save that particular sperm and that particular egg for 10 years, we’re not talking about improving the life of a specific child. We’re talking about two entirely distinct children.
Does that matter? Yeah, I think it does. I think it does because Madonna going around and adopting children like they were Pokemon (“Gotta catch ’em all!”), parents in India and China sex-selecting their chidlren by killing off the girls, the fact that 95% of babies with Down syndrome get aborted, the entire industry of IVF that tends to treat children as an upgraded model of those purse-dwelling toy dogs, and the looming biothethical quandary of designer children all contribute to the commodification of human beings. Implicit in all of this is the idea that–as long as you terminate the pregnancy before birth–you can have a do-over. As though a human being were like a laptop or a car or a cup of coffee: a purchase you can postpone by returning the merchandise or a transaction you can unravel if the situation changes.
Yes, I’m pro-life, but you don’t have to be pro-life to be troubled by this trend. Even those who think abortion should be legal can recognize that a living human organism has some moral value, and that we ought to treat them as something qualitatively distinct from products. I’m not saying that these posters are creating that perception, but they sure are disturbing reflections of it.