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Commentary on the Media Discourse Surrounding Abortion and Social Class

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By Kelly Rae Mathews

When I first heard the break out news about Planned Parenthood supposedly selling baby parts for profit, I did what I always do upon hearing a story of this magnitude. Despite my gut reaction, which was disgust, I checked myself with facts, and researched the issue.

It turns out Planned Parenthood hasn’t done anything illegal. They don’t seem to be engaging in eugenics and they sought reimbursement for expenses, which is legal. Not only that, the Republicans who tried to defund Planned Parenthood had previously voted to fund research using fetal tissue.

But the words thrown around in the discourse surrounding what happened since the release of the video and the 60 page Center for Medical Progress transcript — “Profit,” “Baby parts,” Fetus,” “Fetal,” “Harvesting body parts of undead babies,” “human capital project,” “haggling” over “human limbs” — are all related to how we also define personhood, humanity and the long, drawn out, complex arguments for what makes us human. 

These terms are also part of the vast cultural-commercial mythology created not just by our faiths, but by the advertising industries that voraciously sell us their mythologies of what these terms mean based on our desires in our lives and what we want. They appeal to our most primeval emotions as well as to our notions in a socially stratified society of what respect means and who we are in that society.

As I read the transcript, I thought of Margaret Sanger, one of Planned Parenthood’s founders and eugenics advocate. I could see why there was a good deal of furor, and why the Democrats had been silent at first.

This transcript highlighted everything wrong with the American class system.

According to Guttmacher, 69 percent of women having abortions are economically disadvantaged. When there are stories floating around about baby limbs being sold and statistics saying that most of the women getting abortions are economically disadvantaged, it appears that economically disadvantaged people are used as fodder for the upper classes.

We as a nation need to have a serious talk about how the various discourses on what constitutes personhood are enforced in the context of class, sexuality and desire.

And Americans rarely talk class. But it’s there. Class affects our sexuality and desires, our humanity and personhood from pre-birth, to birth, to death. Now it’s also addressing “When does life start?” And hey, if it was scientists looking for life on another planet, the cells from conception would constitute life, but within the context of personhood and the law the cells do not constitute life.

I think we all know what happens when a person doesn’t have personhood or isn’t considered human. People of disadvantaged social classes become fodder for the mill of various industries. They don’t get to enjoy the lives portrayed on TV or in the middle class, and are shunned and kept from playing with children outside their class from an early age.

Even those defined as human in our country are treated reprehensibly if they are people of color, who arefor instance, more likely to be killed and shot by police. People who are socially disadvantaged simply do not have the privilege to be who they want to be or live life the way they want to, and are usually not treated as equally human in the media, or in any general way.

I don’t like the fact that there are abortions because women are poor and can’t afford children. I prefer there to be preventative birth control as well as systemic change — people being able to live healthy lives happily, with jobs and their own homes.  And for that to happen we have to address the very discourse of science, industry and the global market  with the discourse of  capitalism. Science situated in capitalism and for profit based research has problematic ethics that are detached from empathy for the human situation.

There’s no end of the irony that what Christian coalitions within the Republican party, as well as the neo-liberals, have in common is their twin greedy obsessions with social stature, pop culture and making money en masse, despite their claims to Christianity or social activism.

We are situated in this larger context wherein our everyday lives we as people are demeaned in the media by upper classes and an industry that preys on our desires to be at the top of the pyramid scheme of hypocrisy with unrealistic models of health based on Photoshop instead of actual nutrition, and our bodies and parts are sold to the highest bidder. Human adults’ chromosomes and so on have been patented by various labs, and the aesthetics of beauty is an industry.

If we really want abortion to stop, we have to change these industries, the ways our bodies are commercialized, the stratification of classes in America, and rape culture. I would advocate for getting rid of class altogether if possible. However, this doesn’t address medical abortion, which is abortion for medical reasons when necessary to save a mother’s life. It also does not address abortion and rape.

Kelly Rae Mathews

About Kelly Rae Mathews

Kelly Rae Mathews grew up in culturally and faith diverse San Diego, Calif. during the 70s and 80s before moving to Spokane in 2004. Growing up in a such a diverse environment with amazing people, led Mathews to be very empathetic and open to the insights of many different faiths, she said. She loves science fiction and this also significantly contributed to and influenced her own journey and understanding of faith and values. She agrees with and takes seriously the Vulcan motto, when it comes to faith and life, "Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations." Therefore, it is no surprise she has a degree in anthropology as well as English. She has studied the anthropology of religion and is knowledgeable about many faiths.

She completed an anthropological research project on poets of the Inland Northwest, interviewing over two dozen poets, their audiences, friends, family members, and local business community who supported the poetry performances. Mathews gave a presentation on How Poets Build Community: Reclaiming Intimacy from the Modern World at the Northwest Anthropological Conference, at the Eastern Washington University Creative Symposium, the Eastern Washington University Women's Center and the Literary Lunch Symposium put on by Reference Librarian and Poet Jonathan Potter at the Riverfront Campus.

She was a volunteer minister in San Diego for about 10 years while attending college and working in various editorial positions.

Her articles, poems and short stories have appeared in Fickle Muse, The Kolob Canyon Review, Falling Star Magazine, Acorn, The Coyote Express, The Outpost and Southern Utah University News.

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