Seeing, Feeling, Doing: Mandatory Ultrasound Laws, Empathy and Abortion

Journal of Practical Ethics 6 (2):1-31 (2018)

Abstract

In recent years, a number of US states have adopted laws that require pregnant women to have an ultrasound examination, and be shown images of their foetus, prior to undergoing a pregnancy termination. In this paper, I examine one of the basic presumptions of these laws: that seeing one’s foetus changes the ways in which one might act in regard to it, particularly in terms of the decision to terminate the pregnancy or not. I argue that mandatory ultrasound laws compel women into a position of moral spectatorship and require them to recognise the foetus as a being for whom they are responsible, particularly through empathic responses to ultrasound images. The approach I propose extends the project of a bioethics of the image and highlights the need for a critical analysis of the political mobilization of empathy in discussions of abortion.

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Catherine Mills
Monash University

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