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Seeing and knowing : ultrasound images in the contemporary abortion debate

By Julie Palmer


Foetal images have been central to the medicalized abortion debate since the 1960s. Feminists have extensively analysed such pictures, arguing that the pregnant body is separated from the foetus and erased from view, and that the rights of women and foetuses are set in opposition. In this article I introduce the latest image in this debate, the 3D sonogram, which is widely reported as new evidence for a reduction in the gestational time limit. Through close analysis of two examples, I argue that the rhetorical use of these images can be characterized by a conflation of knowing with seeing. With the new clarity of sonograms to the untrained eye, image producers are legitimated by a discourse of public information and concerned citizens are called upon to exercise their rights to see/know. For feminist theory, this implies the need for continued analysis of the epistemology of foetal images and renewed focus on the subject position of the viewer

Topics: HQ, RG
Publisher: Sage Publications, Inc.
Year: 2009
DOI identifier: 10.1177/1464700109104923
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