Sisterhood Blog

What the Bush Family 'Fetus in a Jar' Says About the 'Culture of Life'

By Sarah Seltzer

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By this afternoon the internet is quite beside itself — or perhaps befuddled is the better word — with the story told by George W. Bush about having to drive his mom, former First Lady Barbara Bush, to the hospital after a miscarriage. Apparently on the way she showed him the remains of the miscarriage — a fetus — in a jar she was taking with her. From that moment on, Bush says, he opposed abortion because he saw the miscarriage as the loss of a sibling.

Salon’s Tracy Clark-Flory points out that the incident didn’t seem to have the same effect on Bush’s mom, who has said she’s pro-choice (as is his wife, Laura). Meanwhile my colleague Robin Marty at RH Reality Check notes an inevitable comparison to the behavior of former right-wing Senator Rick Santorum, who brought his wife’s deceased 20-week-old fetus home to cuddle and pose for pictures with the family before returning the body to the hospital.

There’s nothing wrong with mourning the loss of a pregnancy for any reason. But whatever your views about abortion are, there’s something decidedly strange going on with all this fetus-preserving and fetusworshipping in the name of anti-abortion views. This may be particularly true for those of us with a Jewish sensibility about death, coming from a tradition in which we’re instructed to bury our loved ones soon and simply — without delaying the end of their physical existence.

That’s why to me, the attitudes of Bush and Santorum and their ilk resonate strongly with a phenomenon that feminist blogger Amanda Marcotte has often discussed the way anti-abortion beliefs coincide with a massive sense of denial about death and decay. One overarching thread between various extreme right-wing causes is that of not wanting to confront the fact that we’re composed of tissue and bone and organic matter that often fails.

That’s part of what’s behind the bizarre insistence that a fertilized egg is a full human being, the insistence that a vegetative, insentient woman should be kept alive indefinitely, even the insistence that abstinence is admirable and homosexuality “a choice.” All these things are united by the idea that we’re something other than our physical selves. Arguably, the thread connects these beliefs to still bigger positions held by many the anti-abortion movement, like pooh-poohing the fact that we’re destroying our planet physically and making it unlivable or the continuing freakout about avenging a terrorist attack that exposed our country’s vulnerablity.

Death and loss, from miscarriages upwards, are terrible, tragic, impossibly difficult parts of life, but they are indeed parts of life and need to be confronted as such. Still, if the impractical desire on the part of social conservatives to ignore the reality of what Shakespeare called “the heartache and the thousand natural shocks/That flesh is heir to” prevailed, it would a dangerous direction in which to take public policy.


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