Abortion and female right to this procedure has raised controversial responses among modern researchers. Some scientists emphasize that abortion is immoral and unethical and compare it to murder. Others, on the contrary, acclaim that it is a legal right of a woman, to be responsible for her life, health, and well-being. Michael Foucalt plays the groundbreaking role in investigating and promoting the female rights that concern the issue of reproductive function and health. He frequently intervenes with the demand to respect the established rights of people, like the right to abortion, the right to asylum, and the right to be represented by a lawyer. In his work, “The History of Sexuality”[footnoteRef:1], he treats sexuality as a biological instinct crucial to an understanding of an individual’s health and identity. According to him, sexuality is the constituent of bio-power. He puts an emphasis on the fact that bio-power centers on the anatomy and politics of the human body and are an effective form of social control. He applied this notion to prove the rightfulness of this action. According to him, the political nature of people gives them a possibility of choice and it does not intervene with a concept of bio-power. Abortion is the manifestation of the political power of the human body, it is an undeniable right of an individual to take the decisions related to one’s reproductive health and it does not fall under the realm of bio-power. [1: Michael Foucault, History of Sexuality: An Introduction, (New York: Knopf Publishing), 141.]
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Foucault’s Reproductive Rights on Abortion
Central towards the notion of bio-power is discursive practice. It is a special framework that applies language as a tool, which produces objects and relations. The bright example of this discourse is that it shapes objects and beliefs, opinions and understanding[footnoteRef:2]. Foucault emphasized that discursive practice created the atmosphere, which considered abortion as a stereotypical viewpoint and promoted severe stigmatization. Discursive practice shaped the laws and made them view this act subjectively. They put an emphasis on the negative stereotypes that concerned female approval of abortion as a violation of the law. Weitz[footnoteRef:3] emphasizes that due to the effect of the discursive practice in the sphere of law, women aiming at taking the decision concerning their reproductive health are viewed as immoral individuals. Foucault notes that morality has nothing to do with human rights. If a woman does not want to deliver the baby, she has the legal right to abortion because of her body power. [2: Tracy Weitz & Katrina Kimport, “The Discursive Production of Abortion Stigma in the Texas Ultrasound Viewing Law”. Berkeley Journal of Gender, Law, and Justice, (2015): 9.] [3: Ibid, 9.]
The highly politicized law discourse influenced the treatment of abortion. Foucault states that this procedure must be viewed from an unbiased perspective. However, morality and prevailing ethical considerations impose the abortion-related restrictions, which made women alter their viewpoint on abortion. Foucault states that making a person change his decision is illegal. The subjective vision of abortion affects the law which consequently alters the social understanding of abortion and its overall cultural legitimacy. The bright example is Texas State which in 2012 implemented the legal regulation that presupposed the application of ultrasound in abortion care[footnoteRef:4]. This law did not take into account the initial decisions of the individuals and made an attempt to alter the abortion determination. In such a way, the legal pressure affects an individual as a political being and the person’s right to make decisions concerning one’s health. [4: Ibid, 10]
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The analysis of the work “History of Sexuality” by Foucault and Weitz confirms the fact that abortion stigmatization occurs due to social influence, where abortion is constructed as a crime. The criminal abortion law promotes the stigmatization of individuals, who had abortions[footnoteRef:5]. The issue of abortion is viewed from the single angle, as the manifestation of the mortal sin of killing a human being. It arouses hostility. Foucault notes that such an attitude fails to take into account the rights of an individual. [5: Rebecca Cook, Joanna Erdman, and Bernard Dickens, Abortion Law in Transnational Perspective: Cases and Controversies, (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2014), 369.]
Religious Discourse on Abortion
Religious discourse promotes anti-abortion viewpoints. In the mid-1970s, Christian considerations created a ground of a very powerful movement, which played a key role in the arousing debates around the Hyde Amendment. Saurette and Gordon[footnoteRef:6] note that Christian rights, which occurred during the 1970s and 1980s became the significant factor that influenced the anti-abortion movement. The bright case, which demonstrates the religious attitude towards abortion, is the Hyde Amendment, which aimed at prohibiting Medicare to provide financial support for abortions. Hyde Amendment, which was proposed in 1978 emphasized the religious viewpoint on abortion. It viewed this procedure as infanticide and promoted its prohibition through the denial of financial support for it. Melody Rose[footnoteRef:7] in her work provides the text of the Hyde Amendment and it states that the unborn child is already a human, and killing it is a sin. The Hyde Amendment applies morality and ethics as tools, which should be applied against abortion. It compares a human being to the animals and states that people are ruled by their moral and religious judgment, but not instincts, and it prohibits them to get rid of human life, which develops inside the female womb. The Hyde Amendment puts an emphasis on the religious perspective towards abortion. [6: Paul Saurette and Kelly Gordon, The Changing Voice of the Anti-Abortion Movement: The rise of “Pro-Women” Rhetoric in Canada and the United States, (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2015), 69.] [7: Melody Rose, Abortion: A Documentary and Reference Guide, (London: Greenwood Press, 2008), 118.]
Christian right advanced the anti-abortion strategy and manifested the distinctive gender roles. In the traditional viewpoint, abortion was the opposition to traditional values. The religious discourse started perceiving abortion not only from the religious but also from the fundamentalist perspective.
Political Discourse on Abortion
The legal milieu has been under the social impact of society and the general idea that abortion is an unlawful act for a long time. The investigation of the political field manifested that the same viewpoint prevailed within the political discourse. The example, which demonstrates the core ideas of the political discourse, is the case of Gonzales v Carhart. It alluded to the idea that abortion was not only immoral but also threatening to human health, because of the harm, which is produced on the human fetus. The political decision to prohibit abortions under the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act manifested the dignity of human life. This case demonstrates the essence of political discourse. The government takes steps to exhibit and promote its interest in regulating abortion in order to protect potential life. The gist of a political viewpoint is that promoting human life demonstrates the dignity, which the ruling authorities feel towards this issue. This work applies dignity in the context of Kantian Autonomy and in the meaning of liberty. Political discourse denies abortion due to social standing and decisional autonomy.
Saurette and Gordon[footnoteRef:8] provide another case, which demonstrates the political discourse. It is the law, passed in South Dakota in 2006. It prohibited abortions except for the cases, where pregnancy could lead to the immediate death of the pregnant woman. This law was overturned the same year, but it still shows the attitude, which the U.S. politicians have towards the issue of abortion. In general, political authorities view abortion as an unethical act, which causes harm to human dignity. The analysis shows that stereotypical vision and religion affect the political forces and their perception of abortion. [8: Ibid, 84.]
Court Legal Discourse
Apart from mere political and religious discourses of abortion, the legal perspectives on the issue should be discussed as well. In this regard, the Supreme Court is considered to have the final word over the number of issues related to abortion. Notably, it balances the powers in case the President, the Vice-President, the Congress as well as two leading political parties hold different views on abortion and reproductive rights of females. This part of the study aims at discussing the competency of the Supreme Court as well as its role in the advancement of the abortion right.
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The Supreme Court has been known for passing contradicting decisions in the cases with active public discourse; nevertheless, its role in the advancement of abortion and reproductive rights of females has been crucial, though contradicting. In particular, one of the cases has led to the de-facto cancellation of the Partial-Birth Abortion Act. In 1973 having weighted the circumstances as well as the arguments in the case of Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court held that women were granted the right to free and safe legitimate abortion[footnoteRef:9]. Though the decision contradicted a number of state laws, it was still adopted and was to be followed by the inferior courts if similar cases arose. This case is remarkable as it demonstrates that the Supreme Court had the competence and powers to challenge the state authority and impose rules that did not correspond to the will of the states. In other words, the Court held the supremacy over these issues. [9: Penelope Deutscher, “The Inversion of Exceptionality: Foucault, Agamben, and “Reproductive Rights”. South Atlantic Quarterly 107 (1), 2008: 62.]
On the other hand, it has to be noted that the Supreme Court changes the discourse around the issue in question. As Weitz and Kimport [footnoteRef:10] stress, the language that is used in the decisions of the Court actually contributes to the stigmatization of abortion and decreasing the scope of the reproductive rights available to females. Moreover, the words employed by the Supreme Court are interpreted frequently not in favor of females. One of the decisions of the Supreme Court provides that the females merely cannot judge in relation to their healthcare and, therefore, they cannot be granted authority to decide on the abortion issue too. Weitz and Kimport[footnoteRef:11] also assert that similar decisions might eventually lead to the reinforcement of the gender-based stereotypes and advancement of the inferiority of the females. Weitz and Kimport[footnoteRef:12] also stress that the laws could be employed as ideal research material for the investigation of the issue related to the stigmatization of the abortion and the advancement of some of the social movements. Yet, they admit that the literature on this issue is rather limited, thus, no representative findings could be retrieved out for the analysis. [10: Ibid, 9.] [11: Ibid, 9.] [12: Ibid, 9.]
Discussing the legal context surrounding the issue of abortion, one should mention the newly adopted Texas abortion regulation that has been implemented in 2012. The latter provides that every female who is willing to make an abortion should go through the ultrasound. Then the physician is required to present the fetal image of the child to the woman, provide the oral description of the fetus and ensure that the female can hear to the heartbeat of the fetus[footnoteRef:13]. Obviously, such a law and the requirements it sets require a female to experience enormous emotional stress while passing the final decision regarding the abortion. Such a procedure is challenging for the psychological health and well-being of the woman. Moreover, it arouses severe controversies nowadays. In general, the laws in Texas are considered to be anti-abortion and they encompass a number of rules proving that presumption. They have resulted in shutting down many clinics that have specialized in reproductive health. Nevertheless, recently the Supreme Court while deciding on the case Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt has upheld the number of the Texas regulations in regard to the abortion noting that they have created an undue burden on the constitutional rights of the females to make an abortion (according to Haberkorn[footnoteRef:14]). The experts consider that such a ruling will definitely have a nationwide effect, which proves once more the deciding and final authority of the Supreme Court over the matters related to the reproductive rights of females.
Language Abortion is Bad
The language is the means of communication and transcending of ideas. Based on this assumption, it should be stressed that the words and phrases that are used in regard to the abortion and the right of the female to decide on the issues related to her health are to be considered in conjunction. The experts frequently assert that the perception of the particular issue largely depends on the social discourse as well as the formulation of the final opinions in the written form.
In this regard, one should draw attention to the decision of the Supreme Court in the case Gonzales v. Carhart where the Court has stressed that females cannot or do not have enough capabilities to pass decisions on their own. Based on that presumption, the state has to intervene in this area of private life and pass the decision balancing the rights of the female and the unborn fetus that still holds certain features of human life. Obviously, the shift that has been made by the Supreme Court in understanding and interpreting the scope of reproductive rights granted to the females is tremendous. Nevertheless, it should be noted that such a conclusion of the Court is based on mere assumptions regarding females’ capabilities.
Nevertheless, the language that has been used by the Court significantly influences the following social and legal discourse and the direction it takes. Starting from that point the legislators could intervene in the private matters of the U.S. citizens that basically contravened to the U.S. Constitution. On the other hand, the language that is employed by the Supreme Court and the essence of the final decision passed in the case also depends on the social context. The decision of the Supreme Court that has been previously mentioned has been passed within the circumstances when the feminism movement has just started. Therefore, no progress has been admitted in that regard. On the other hand, the latest decision of the Court in the case regarding Texas regulations actually remarks the advancement that has been made in the field of the protection and reinforcement of the reproductive rights of the females as well as the feminism movement on the whole.
How Abortion Affects the Body
The issue of abortion is also to be considered in light of the theory that discusses the bio-power of the human body. In the book “History of Sexuality”, Michael Foucault provides that the concept of the bio-power has the physical dimension too. One of the rights that stems from this power relates to the capability of passing the decision that relates to life or death. Moreover, it provides independence from intruders. Furthermore, the author asserts on the controlling tools presented to every individual, which refers to the influence over such matters as mortality, birth, and longevity. Foucault represents modern human beings as the political beings that have the priority to decide. Based on that, one should stress that Foucault considers abortion as the decision of the individual that does not intervene with the bio-power.
Analyzing the correlation between the bio-power and the abortion, Deutscher [footnoteRef:15] holds a different opinion on that. She asserts that the primary conflict occurs between human life, namely the pregnant female, and the fetus that is yet to take the form of the human. Thus, the main discourse lies in the field of balancing the rights of the female and unborn individuals who might still have certain interests in living. The author traces the scientific discussion of this issue and also employs the legal discourse asserting on the Supreme Court’s decision in the case of Roe v. Wade. The latter has provided females with extended rights towards their bodies. [15: Ibid, 67.]
On the other hand, the author asserts that the decision provides the state with the right to intervene in the regulation of such a private matter and to limit women’s right to refuse from the fetus. In asserting that, the judges of the Supreme Court noted that the state might have an interest in preserving the potential human life especially when it reaches a compelling point at various stages of the term. It should be stressed that bio-power and the feature of being human to depend on the number of characteristics that might be either inherent or not for the fetus. Based on that, one can infer that abortion makes no difference to the bio-power in case it is performed at a certain stage of the development. On the other hand, after a certain phase, abortion does negatively affects the bio-power and is considered to be a murder of the human being as the fetus has already incorporated the features that are considered essential for humans.
The Resistance: Women’s Rights and Feminism
The issue of abortion should also be analyzed through the lenses of females’ resistance and feminism and the fight for reproductive rights. It should be asserted that women’s movement was initiated at the beginning of the XX century. Researcher Pollitt[footnoteRef:16] notes that the first convention that was dedicated to the females’ rights was organized in 1848 in New York. The event gathered nearly 100 participants that came together to issue the resolutions regarding females’ rights (according to Pollitt[footnoteRef:17]). Yet, the focus of attention was primarily drawn to voting rights. At the same time, women were also concerned about reproductive rights. Margaret Sanger initiated the first clinic that specialized in abortions. However, she was arrested a few days after that. She was eventually released from jail due to the common efforts of the females who also helped her to establish another clinic in New York. [16: Katha Pollitt, Reclaiming Abortion Rights, (New York: Picador, 2014), 166.] [17: Ibid, 166.]
Another stage of females’ resistance according to Wilhelm[footnoteRef:18] was specifically dedicated to reproductive rights and occurred in the 1970s. Before that Margaret Stranger initiated the creation of the American Birth Control League that was responsible for the controlling of the reproductive initiatives as well as aimed at spreading the idea regarding the contraception pills and their effect on society[footnoteRef:19]. A few years later, the Food and Drug Administration approved the use of birth control pills. The females’ resistance movement also resulted in the creation of the Commission of the Status of Women, which paid specific attention to all the issues related to the females.
The current stage of the females’ movement is linked more to the fight for political representation as well as fair pay. Nevertheless, it should be stressed that with the strengthening of females’ resistance the scope of the reproductive right granted to the females tends to increase. The latest Supreme Court decision on legitimizing the anti-abortion regulations in Texas definitely proves the tendency.
Bio-power by Foucault
Foucault is well-known for his discussion of the biopower. According to him, it provides the framework of knowledge that concerns the fields of the biopolitics of population and anatomy-politics.
Michael Foucault notes that biopower distributes life in the domain of value and utility. Its primary objective is to document, rank, and portray the subject bodies. Foucault also emphasizes that this notion has two axes or poles: disciplinary and regulatory. Anatomy-politics is the disciplinary pole of biopower and biopolitics of the population is the regulatory one. The ax of the anatomy-biopower of the human body aims at putting an emphasis on the human body and its regularity to the social body. Foucault considered that people were the counterparts of one community, which he called the social body. And the biopower of the individual was the part of the greater social power. The ax of the biopolitics of the population views the population as a human body. It considers the political interest in biological processes like control of human reproductive function, death rates, and life expectancy. The difference existing between these two poles of biopower is in the fact that anotomo-politics views the human body as a machine, where people performe the role of screws of social mechanism. The biopolitics of the population consists of biopractices that operate at the level of populations, enhancing biological and social functioning and productivity.
The viewpoint towards the issue of abortion is formed under the effect of the biopolitics of population and anatomy-politics. According to Foucault, conjoining the two poles of biopower (anatomy-politics and biopolitics of population) leads towards the occurrence of the great technologies of power. One of these technologies was sexuality[footnoteRef:20]. The established technologies of power led towards the creation of new kinds of political struggle, where life was perceived as a political object. Viewing human life from such angle resulted in imposing various kinds of control, which were manifested in the laws promoting the right to life, right health, etc.[footnoteRef:21] In such a way, biopower emphasized that an unborn child is a political object, with its right to live. Foucault denied the idea stating that the issue of primary focus was the female body, which included its own power, and this power provided a woman with a right to choose. In other words, the body power gives a person a chance to choose whether to preserve the life inside them or not. And this choice does not intervene with biopower. [20: Julia Coffey, Body Work: Youth, Gender, and Health, (New York: Routledge, 2016), 21.] [21: Ibid, 57. ]
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In conclusion, it is necessary to note that abortion is a very controversial issue. This study researched this issue from the viewpoint of biopower and Michael Foucault. Abortion is independent of the bipower, because it is part of the human body’s power. Michael Foucault viewed the human body as a political object and gave a person a right to make choice over the health procedures. According to him, absence of wish of an individual to have a baby might be treated as a valid reason for abortion. Biopower makes abortion a part of the social milieu. And society considers it a crime, due to the prevailing stereotypes and stigma. Religion, cultural traditions, and social order made people consider abortion the manifestation of infanticide, but not the part of human choice. It is necessary to note that the human body belongs to the individual, but not to the community or any political system. An individual has a right to take life decisions, and this right has nothing to do with the automo-politics or biopolitics of population poles of biopower. It is part of individual’s politics.