Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, in consultation with the Vatican, is trying to overturn a court order to remove the feeding tubes from a woman who has been in a coma for 17 years and been assessed as having no hope of any recovery.
Why? Because she’s fertile.
The other day, Pavlov’s Cat referred to pro-life ideas that construct women as nothing more than “centrally-heated wheelbarrows“. The idea revolves around an ignorant, misogynistic mindset that says that a pregnancy is just something a woman carts around like a Tupperware container; that the impact on the rest of her life is nonexistent or irrelevant; that all woman have to do with an unwanted or dangerous pregnancy is “carry it for nine months” and then everyone would be happy.
This idea that women are no more than meat-containers is reinforced in the fetus-centric imagery of pro-life marketing. Recently, Catholicvote put out an advertisement purporting to show the real-time fetal ultrasound of Barack Obama (an obvious lie), and his mother was absent – reduced to merely a few uterine shadows on a sonogram. That advertisement is here (see RH Reality Check, Menstrual Poetry, Womanist Musings, Sociological Images, and Feministing for more commentary.)
There are many more examples of this flavour of woman-erasure. Pro-life propaganda often depicts an embryo or fetus floating in a black void, the woman not even existing as a uterus, but completely absent. Sufficient Scruples wrote in “You Are a Housing Project for Fetuses“:
Yep. Your uterus is the home of a fetus. Your cervix is merely the front door of its “apartment”, and your bodily organs are merely the walls, floor, wiring, and ventilation ducts of its abode. Acting on your own body, or having a doctor do so on your behalf, is equivalent to bursting down the door of someone else’s home. (I admit, I have no freaking idea what the binoculars are for.) […]
Amazingly enough, also, the cartoon manages to show the inside of a woman’s body without ever implying that there’s actually a woman present.
Now, Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi has made it absolutely clear that he believes women are nothing more than fetal housing projects. And he has done so by trying to overturn a court decision in a right-to-die case. Eluana Englaro, age 38, has been in a coma for 17 years. Her condition is considered irreversible. Her father has won a decade-long court battle to remove her feeding tubes. The Guardian reports:
But in an extraordinary turn of events, the country’s prime minister, Silvio Berlusconi, after consultation with the Vatican, has issued an emergency decree stating that food and water cannot be suspended for any patient depending upon them, reversing the earlier court ruling. On issuing the emergency decree, Berlusconi declared: “This is murder. I would be failing to rescue her. I’m not a Pontius Pilate.”
Justifying his campaign to save Englaro’s life, the prime minister added that, physically at least, she was “in the condition to have babies”.
His argument is not that her condition might be reversed, that she might regain some sort of consciousness one day. Not that this was not her wish. It isn’t coming from a disability-rights perspective or any notions of slippery-slope.
No, he thinks she’s a potential fetus container.
Never mind that impregnation by the usual means would be rape. Never mind that she cannot consent to insemination. Never mind that there is no one except him and the Vatican who wants to shove embryos or sperm into this unconscious woman. Her potential as a comatose incubator is the only thing that he thinks gives her existence any value.
Berlusconi apparently fantasises about a world with comatose women in rows, feeding tubes hooked up, the fetuses that will be their goldensons slowly cooking away until they’re cut out when the machine goes ping.
This is fucking horrifying.
Sadly, this is entirely consistent with the past behaviour of Berlusconi and the Vatican. They don’t believe women are even second-class people; we’re not people at all, just the bearers of chromosomes and wombs, receptacles who collectively get a bit uppity from time to time and have to be slapped down. And what better place to start than with women who can’t fight back.
 Image description, from Sufficient Scruples:
If you can’t see it clearly in the reduced-size image, a cute pink fetus is lounging in a wingback chair, reading “Modern Fetus” magazine, inside a soft, red, squishy-walled apartment with the sign “Womb Sweet Womb” hanging on the wall. The fetus is plugged into the wall through an umbilical cord that terminates in an electrical outlet. Its baseball cap is hanging from a peg on the wall, a ventilator duct appears on the other wall, and – displaying a worrisome grasp of anatomy – a heart-shaped heart and other organs are visible through a huge gap in the side wall, next to a set of large, coin-operated binoculars like you find at outdoor public attractions. (?) A gloved hand is bursting through the screen door and slamming down the front door of the apartment, holding an “Eviction Notice”.