Campbell wants a rationalisation of the current abortion laws, so that terminations are available on demand in the first trimester, but available only on urgent medical grounds in later stages of pregnancy…His conviction owes much to advanced ultrasound scanning, a field in which Campbell is the acknowledged leader…
By demonstrating the advanced physiological development of foetuses, his images reignited the abortion debate last year, when the television programme, Life Before Birth, showed footage of Campbell’s scans, with embryos moving in real time at just 12 weeks, and apparently smiling at 20 weeks.
Moving, and apparently smiling. But…but moving doesn’t necessarily equate to conscious, aware, even sentient moving. And ‘apparently smiling’ doesn’t necessarily equate to actual smiling (whatever Jeb Bush may say).
A father-of-four, he admits his reasoning is based on gut instinct, rather than cold logic. “It’s very tenuous, very non-specific, and some people say it’s very sentimental, but given how advanced these babies are in terms of the sophistication of their movements, and their facial expressions, I feel it’s actually offensive to be [carrying out abortions], certainly after 18 weeks.”
But what does ‘advanced’ mean there? What does ‘sophistication’ mean? I know what ‘facial expressions’ means, but I don’t know how one picks out ‘sophisticated’ ones from reflex ones. Is that ‘cold logic’? But if it is – maybe there’s a place for cold logic when discussing these issues? Maybe gut instinct can be misleading?
“At 12 weeks the foetus starts to move around much more vigorously, make complex movements, touch its feet and toes, put its finger in its mouth, take stepping movements. Suddenly that is a big change, and you don’t see it at 11 weeks…”
It’s a change, but what kind of change?
Although annoyed his images have been “hijacked by the anti-abortion lobby”, Campbell doesn’t regret the fact abortion is now a hotly contested issue. “I feel slightly flattered in a way that my images have got people talking about it. The foetus is its own advocate. Before, it was all about care for the mother, and I’m all in favour of that. But that’s balanced with images of the foetus, which is saying, ‘Here I am, this is what I can do, this is my humanity, I’m a sentient human being, do you want to terminate me?’ The foetus now is part of the question.”
Okay – that begins to answer some of those questions. The idea is that the foetus (because it is moving around and apparently smiling) is saying ‘Here I am, this is what I can do, this is my humanity, I’m a sentient human being, do you want to terminate me?’. But is the foetus saying that? Would it be saying that if it could talk? And (another question) what does ‘sentient’ mean there? Are we meant to confuse it with ‘conscious’?
So many people told me they felt very emotional about it. I had thought there was a growing movement towards the recognition of humanity in the womb.
There again. Surely nobody claims that a human foetus is not human – so what does ‘recognition of humanity in the womb’ mean?
What about the charge that emotive images of early foetuses showing apparent emotional responses shouldn’t be taken into account in considering an essentially scientific issue?…“Of course it’s emotive,” counters Campbell. “It’s a natural human response to see something that looks and behaves like a child, and to be emotional and protective towards it, not rip it out of the uterus. It’s good emotion, not bad…The film [Life Before Birth] at least made the foetus look like a potential human being, as nice as a newborn baby. It’s not suddenly there and it’s cute; it was cute before birth. It’s time people began to love the foetus.”
But is it? If so, why? Because it moves in an advanced, sophisticated, complex way? Because it’s apparently smiling? Because it’s sentient? Because it’s as cute and nice as a baby? Because it’s human? Because people feel protective towards it when they see images of it? Are any of those good reasons? Are they good reasons when all added together even if they’re not good reasons taken separately?
I have to say, they don’t seem like good reasons to me. That’s not to say that there may not be good reasons, but these don’t seem to be good ones. Movements can be merely reflexive, as can smiling. Sentience is not the same thing as consciousness. Humanity is not in dispute. Cute and nice – well cute and nice seem to be what’s at issue here. It’s all about images, and emotional reactions to images. But images, like appearances, can be misleading. (Surely Campbell must know that – mustn’t he?) In short, a foetus may look as if it’s aware and conscious without actually being so. Now, maybe that’s not the issue – maybe that isn’t and shouldn’t be the cut-off point for abortion. But it’s not clear why movement or ‘cuteness’ should be either. At least not for the rest of us; not for the law; not as public policy. If the foetus’ own parents want to decide the matter on that basis, that of course is their business. But I don’t see why outsiders should decide it for them on that basis. ‘You can’t abort that foetus; it’s cute now.’ That does not seem to me to be a compelling argument.