The University of Colorado-Boulder on Tuesday night hosted a forum called “Animals, Fetuses, and Morality,” where an all-white panel of three men and one woman discussed the “common moral ground” that exists between those who support animal rights and those who oppose abortion rights. The forum was hosted by CU’s conservative Center for Western Civilization, Thought and Policy and the Center for Values and Social Policy. The panel included John Berkman of Regis College; Charles Camosy of Fordham University; and Sherry Colb and Michael Dorf, both of Cornell University.
The scholars hypothesized for an hour on the moral obligations against the harming of “sentient” beings without once mentioning the fact that neither fetuses nor animals are “legal” beings, which—in the context of abortion restrictions—seems like an important point to leave out. Good thing my colleague Imani Gandy wrote such a good explainer of it here.
In particular, Dorf—who, by the way, identifies as pro-choice—also waxed poetic on his “hope” surrounding the congressional “Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act,” a law premised on the junk science that a fetus feels pain at 20 weeks, as a means to bring animal rights into the conversation. He at least mumbled something about a 20-week ban being unconstitutional, but it is doubtful anyone in the audience heard that point. Or if they did, Dorf certainly didn’t explain why that would be the case.
More details are in my Twitter feed, excerpted below. But there’s one critically important note: It’s easy to eye-roll at the kind of intellectualization of abortion restrictions happening at last night’s panel. The rhetorical shift happening, however, is real. The title of the panel had the word “fetuses” in it, but the anti-choice members of the panel always used “pre-natal.” The panelists spent an hour comparing pregnant people to breeding animals and abortion to factory farming.
All that is designed to equate a developing pregnancy with a live birth. And we can expect to hear more of it in coming legislative testimony advancing further abortion restrictions.
In other words, yes, the panel was bananas but that doesn’t mean we should ignore the messaging. Quite the opposite, in my opinion.