It understands that childbirth is scary and dangerous, transformative and worthwhile.
Modern medicine often allows us to forget it, but the fact remains; death is always one of the possible outcomes of birth. We had a painful recent reminder of that late last month, when a woman named Savita Halappanavar had a miscarriage in a hospital in Ireland. Abortions in Ireland are proscribed by law, so the doctors were afraid to terminate the fetus. As a result, Halappanavar died.
If you're out at the cineplexes this week, you may again be forcibly and uncomfortably reminded of Halappanavar. The final installment of the Twilight series features a young woman—Bella Swan—who refuses to have an abortion even though her pregnancy is threatening her life. The juxtaposition with Halappanavar is visceral enough that Alyssa Rosenberg, writing at ThinkProgress, says, that it made it impossible for her to enjoy Breaking Dawn 2.
When we last saw Edward Cullen and Bella Swan, Bella was suffering from a pregnancy that was killing her. Her fetus was starving her of nutrition and giving her pregnancy cravings for blood. Despite the extreme danger to her life, Bella insisted on keeping her baby. And ultimately, her child snapped her spine in one of the few genuinely horrifying scenes in this vampire story and had to be removed by emergency—and bloody—Caesarean section. But instead of dying, Bella was transformed into a vampire. Bella was more beautiful, stronger, more sexual than she'd ever been as a human. Her disregard for her own life earns her a vastly improved version of it.
Millions of people will get that message in a movie theater this weekend. But what they should really know is that callous disregard for a woman's life doesn't transform her into a higher being, even if both she and her baby survive hardship. Instead, it can leave her in delivery for three days. It can lead to doctors who ignore a woman's wishes, endangering both her own life and her future opportunity to bring more viable life into the world. It leads to a dreadful answer to a nightmarish question—as Katha Pollitt put it, "Who is more valuable, a living woman or a dying fetus? The Catholic Church has given its answer, and Savita Halapannavar is dead." It leads to an arithmetic where the value women's lives and women's decisions is degraded even when there isn't a choice between her life and her child's. I can't bear to cheer Bella Swan's transformation when Savita Halapannavar has been sacrificed.
For Rosenberg, the story about birth transforming women is deceptive. The story about birth killing women, however, is true. And , obviously, in the most straightforward sense, this is correct. Bella's story is fiction. Halapannavar's story, dreadfully, happened. A vampire's bite cannot save you, but anti-abortion policies can, and have, killed many women, and will kill more.
But. I think it's a mistake to see Bella's narrative solely as a pro-life fantasy, and I think it's a mistake to dismiss as unwitting dupes those who think that there's something worthwhile in her story.