The news media loves a baby, particularly the “Royal Baby,” George Alexander Louis, born Monday. The news media also loves reproductive justice, particularly when preached by news darling and Texas State Senator Wendy Davis. The juxtaposition of these two media events cannot be ignored. Recently in The Atlantic, Owen Stratchan asked that question, while MSNBC host Melissa Harris-Perry reminds us that “when a pregnancy is wanted . . . it is easy to think of the bump as a baby.” The problem inherent in the news media surrounding both of these stories is exactly what Harris-Perry indicates: A baby is a baby when that word provides a story which sells papers. When the story selling papers involves women’s rights and pregnant teens, what we called the “royal baby” becomes a “fetus.”
The assumption with the vast majority of the “royal baby” coverage is that whatever was going on inside Kate Middleton, that being has been a baby since the moment of conception. The assumption in the highly popularized media coverage of Wendy Davis’s filibuster over the Texas abortion ban, on the other hand, was that whatever was going on inside the women of the great state of Texas, it sure wasn’t another person. And in both cases, the media is focusing on the “clump of cells” or “unique human life” angle as an accessory to the story: a moral determination to be made based the spin it gives us in talking about the women at the center of these two stories. In one case, we have the princess who is fundamental to the next generation of the royal family. In the other, we have the feisty senator standing her ground so that Texan women have reproductive justice. In both cases, the embryos are scientifically the same thing, yet in one they are practically a holy grail, while in the other they are the enemy of female progress.
If Wendy Davis is right — if reproductive justice is a right that ought to be available to all women — the the media has done a great disservice to Kate Middleton, denying her a legitimate autonomy in her pregnancy. When we as an international community went on royal baby watch only seconds after Kate and Will said “I do,” the media proclaimed that the having of a heir to the throne was not Kate’s choice. Actually, given the extensive coverage of her medical state, the media seemed hardly to consider it as “her body.” Rather, both her body and intention were subject to international scrutiny and opinion.
On the other hand, if we look at the basis of State Senator Davis’ popularity, namely her fight to provide reproductive justice for all women in Texas, and compare that to the media coverage of the royal baby, a disturbing trend is revealed. Is the economic or political status of a woman the determining factor in whether we believe she's carrying a fetus, or a baby? Is a baby a baby simply when it profits a media conglomerate?
The ambiguity of the media coverage matches the ambiguity of the American people: It is much easier to support someone else’s right to choose than it is to make that choice yourself. It is much easier to allow a teenager to raise a child on her own or deal with the grief of her abortion than it is to acknowledge that the young woman might need a community which steps up to fight for her, to offer her love and protection. It is much easier to speak about a young woman’s reproductive system than it is to acknowledge that such a system might actually reproduce — and that sometimes the production of another person presents her with a myriad of difficult choices. It is much easier to praise Kate Middleton for having a “royal baby” or Wendy Davis for fighting for idealized and unspecified rights than it is to have a young woman come to you and utter the words “I think I’m in trouble.” But then, it’s much easier for the media to talk about birth plans and running shoes than it is to talk about the hard cases, where a scared young woman tries desperately to do the right thing, and autonomously to decide what that right thing even means. In our bipolar media narrative, we often miss that not everyone is a princess or a senator. Sometimes, the womb we ignore is connected to a girl, one who is scared, possibly alone, and terrified of the consequences of any choice she makes. That story is neither feisty nor a fairytale. That story does not end with a princess or a president. That story ends, far too often regardless of the choice, with tears.
But who doesn’t like blue crowns or pink shoes?