publisher colophon

This article argues that since the 1960s, science fiction's explorations of the human and the posthuman have been anchored in a very real legal question of their and our time--that of abortion. Unlike literary fiction, which has focused on representing realistic human emotions, science fiction's speculative character has allowed its authors to extend and examine the myriad cultural and legal analogies that established personhood in the years surrounding Roe v. Wade (1973). The most prominent early example of science fiction's engagement with abortion appears in the writings of Philip K. Dick, whose pro-life sentiments escalated as his career progressed.

Pro-life advocates often insist that the unborn fetus resembles nothing so much as a slave. To President Ronald Reagan, that resemblance was abundantly clear. In his 1983 essay "Abortion and the Conscience of the Nation," Reagan wrote that "we cannot survive as a free nation when some men decide that others are not fit to live and should be abandoned to abortion or infanticide."1 He was, he explained, channeling Abraham Lincoln, who had said that the nation could not endure "half slave and half free."2 As recently as 2015, the Republican presidential candidate and neurosurgeon Ben Carson compared women who have abortions to "slave owners," and as early as 1972, the authors of the pro-life publication Abortion and Social Justice compared the situation of the fetus, deprived of its rights, to "Negro slavery of the nineteenth century."3 In a seemingly disparate context, in Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, Philip K. Dick also reanimates slavery over a hundred years after its official end. The novel tells the story of androids who are designed, according to their advertisements, to evoke "the halcyon days of the pre-Civil War Southern states."4 A group of androids tires of performing forced labor on Mars, and so they escape to Earth and attempt to live human lives while eluding capture. One by one, they are terminated by the novel's protagonist, Rick Deckard, who is unsettled by the thought that he might be killing beings who are "genuinely alive" (A, 141).

The connection between Androids and the discourse of fetal slavery might seem incidental, except that Dick was adamantly pro-life. He became particularly disheartened when, in 1960, his wife Anne had an abortion against his wishes, and in 1978, he donated money to the Crusade for Life, a pro-life charity.5 In response to Roe v. Wade, Dick published a dystopian story entitled "The Pre-Persons," about a world in which Congress passes a law where children under twelve and incapable of doing "higher math like algebra" can be taken away in "an abortion truck" and "put to sleep."6 The protagonist of "The Pre-Persons" insists that the Supreme Court's ruling that "an embryo is not entitled to American Constitutional rights" is entirely "arbitrary" ("PP," 290–91). Dick believed that if the court was going to claim that [End Page 221] an embryo's rights suddenly began at three months of gestation, it might as well declare that a child acquired rights only once he turned twelve. The context of abortion, which would become highly explicit in "The Pre-Persons," is implicit in Androids, its predecessor. Like the society of "The Pre-Persons," which turns to algebra as an arbitrary standard of personhood, the world of Androids uses the Voigt-Kampff empathy test as a capricious and invalid measure to determine who counts as a person. Pro-life advocates would imagine the fetus as a human slave denied of its rights to life and thus unable to develop its potential; so too does Dick imagine the android.

For Dick, there was a special homology between science fiction and abortion, revealed as two of his passions converged into one. The android represents a person to whom society does not accord full rights; as such, it could allegorize the fetus, the slave, or the disabled person, but the android could also be a figure for science fiction, the genre that is not supposed to depict actual humans. Art-novelists, literary critics, and creative writing programs from midcentury onward criticized science fiction precisely for being unable to provide the nuanced, layered characterizations that populate more self-consciously literary fiction. Mark McGurl describes the university creative writing program as defining itself against what was characterized as "the machine-made quality of formulaic genre fiction."7 Midcentury critic Dwight Macdonald complained: "I never read science fiction. It bores me and it's not about people."8 Preferring to call her own work "speculative fiction," Margaret Atwood echoed his sentiments when she criticized science fiction for being about "rockets, chemicals, and talking squids in outer space."9 Just as the realm of the human, of deep emotional interiority, is denied to the supposedly mechanistic automata in Androids, so too has that realm been historically denied to genre fiction, which was itself often seen as android-like, as an interminably reproducible commodity of the mass market.

In linking science fiction and abortion in the 1960s, Dick was remarkably prescient. In the years after Roe v. Wade, Dick would become one of a whole array of science fiction authors who wrote stories and expressed vociferous opinions about abortion: Octavia Butler, Ursula K. Le Guin, Harlan Ellison, Kurt Vonnegut, James Tiptree, Jr./Alice Sheldon, and (in spite of her resistance to the genre) Atwood.10 What has often seemed like science fiction's abstract, metaphysical exploration of what it means to be a human or posthuman was frequently anchored in the real, historical context of the abortion debate.11 Fictional aliens, androids, and animals all served as tools for these authors to reflect on [End Page 222] the notion of the person—and by extension, the fetus. In this article, I chart science fiction's engagement with abortion, beginning in the early 1960s when the question of fetal personhood started to become a national issue.

Though it rarely discusses genre fiction as such, previous literary criticism about abortion has revealed how language, gender, historical discourse, and technology all mediate our understanding of abortion. In her landmark essay, "Apostrophe, Animation, and Abortion," Barbara Johnson argues that fetal personhood may be inextricable from linguistic expression, residing in "the ineradicable tendency of language to animate whatever it addresses."12 Feminist scholars working at the intersections of cultural and media studies, history, and literature such as Rosalind Pollack Petchesky, Barbara Duden, Lauren Berlant, and Valerie Hartouni have argued that fetal personhood is neither a moral absolute nor a rhetorical inevitability, but rather a historical construct, brought about by changes in technology and medicine and inflected through pronatalist and paternalist cultures.13 Literary scholars have further analyzed how writers reveal and reflect on the historical development of the abortion debate. For instance, Christina Hauck interprets T. S. Eliot's The Waste Land as drawing upon historical anxieties about abortion and female reproductive failure in order to suggest modernism's broader failure to narrate "wholeness … at the level of the individual male subject or at the level of history."14 Karen Weingarten contends that by studying early twentieth-century literature, film, and popular culture, we can understand how the abortion debate came to be framed in the liberal language of life, choice, and rights.15 Heather Latimer shows that these liberal frames, and resistance to them, are visible in more recent American and Canadian fiction and film.16 Analyzing the science fictional texts of this study will contribute to this feminist project of historicizing fetal personhood and its surrounding concepts: as early as the 1960s, American science fiction writers contested definitions of the fetus that were becoming part of law and popular culture alike.

Yet, in their focus on speculative analogy, science fictional texts often engage legal reasoning more closely than other cultural representations do. Legal reasoning characteristically yokes together two cases to generalize them into a legal principle, and in the years before and after Roe v. Wade, legal reasoning about abortion often relied on producing an analogy (for instance to slavery) to characterize the sui generis relationship between a woman and her fetus, and then to suggest that a fetus is or is not a rights-bearing person. Because speculative analogies are [End Page 223] their stock in trade, science fiction authors have been able to directly grapple with the legal and cultural analogies that establish person-hood, more so than their counterparts in lyric poetry, visual culture, and literary fiction.17 In their explorations of the language establishing personhood and privacy, both science fiction and lyric poetry differ from the fetal images displayed in the anti-abortion film The Silent Scream (1984), or in the famous 1965 LIFE magazine photos, which, as Petchesky notes, naturalize the humanness of the fetus as they omit the pregnant woman.18 For Johnson, lyric's apostrophes reveal how those fetal images rely on hidden structures of rhetorical address, which animate and anthropomorphize their object.19 For Deborah Nelson, confessional lyric reveals how legal privacy at midcentury was achieved through language, through disclosure and withholding, in the conversation that takes place in the intimate space between a woman and her doctor.20 But whereas Nelson and Johnson argue that poetry's apostrophes illustrate how privacy and personhood depend on an address to a doctor or to a fetus, science fiction serves as a kind of laboratory in which the proliferating cultural and legal analogies establishing personhood can be tested, affirmed, or discarded. Science fiction argues for or against the validity of specific analogies between the fetus and the person by making those analogies the premise of extended speculative narratives. Following Dick, who took the analogy between slaves and fetuses and wove it into his fiction, his contemporaries also spun fictional worlds out of the myriad analogies characterizing fetal personhood in law and popular culture—comparisons of the fetus to a piece of meat or of the woman's body to a baby-making machine.

The greater and more immediate contrast is between science fiction and its counterparts in literary fiction. Novels like John Barth's The End of the Road (1958), John Updike's Rabbit Run (1960), Joan Didion's Play It As It Lays (1970), and Richard Yates's Revolutionary Road (1961), all depicted the inner psychology and social circumstances of women who considered or had abortions, as well as the role that men played in their lives. These novels incited the reader to sympathize with the plight of a real-seeming character. Judith Wilt subtitles an excellent study of some of these novels "the Armageddon of the maternal instinct," because these novels narrate a woman's "punishment" and "self-punishment" as she departs from maternity "towards infanticide and abortion."21 But whereas these literary novels depicted the fine-grained emotions of human characters grappling with abortion, science fiction authors wondered whether and how the very category of the person should matter in the context of the abortion debate. [End Page 224] Excluded from the art-novel's domain of humanizing truth and beauty, pro-life and pro-choice science fiction writers alike used their writing to speculatively extend and examine the cultural and legal analogies that established personhood in the years surrounding Roe v. Wade.

Not only did science fiction writers temper their genre to reflect on the analogies of the abortion debate, but they also imagined the historical and cultural forces shaping the literary field as continuous with the ones shaping the debate about abortion.22 The law tied personhood to the capacity for self-definition, and science fiction authors, because of their marginalized positions in the literary field, were especially conscious of the ways self-definition and self-expression could be misrecognized and constrained by law and social norms. One of the earliest postwar science fiction writers to approach abortion, Dick felt it natural that the unfairly maligned genre of science fiction would speak up for the forgotten fetus. By contrast, a later science fiction writer like Butler imagined the marketplace for her fiction as permeated by the social power structures that controlled female reproduction. But both articulated their views about legal personhood in science fiction.


When does the link between science fiction and abortion begin? We could trace it back to what many consider the ur-text of science fiction—Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, which has been read as an allegory of pregnancy and childbirth since Ellen Moers's famous essay "Female Gothic." By the time she began Frankenstein in the summer of 1816, Shelley, aged 18, had already given birth to a stillborn daughter and a son; she was soon to be pregnant a third time. Moers sees the novel as rooted in Shelley's postpartum depression and in the self-reproach she experienced when thinking about her stillborn child. Frankenstein's monster is, after all, a child abandoned by his creator.23

Although Frankenstein is often read in terms of pregnancy, early nineteenth-century obstetrics, and spontaneous abortion, many critics have overlooked that it was also written in the wake of the Ellenborough Act of 1803, which made abortion at any stage of pregnancy a felony for both medical practitioners and pregnant women.24 The act, which tried to clarify vague and ineffective law outlawing abortions in Britain, was also likely influenced by contemporary medical practitioners who asserted that life begins at conception and not at the fetus's "quickening."25 Not only does Frankenstein's monster call himself an "abortion" (a term, added to the manuscript by Percy Shelly, that had a freer [End Page 225] usage in the nineteenth century), but also, at one point in the novel, Victor Frankenstein is coerced by his monster into creating a female counterpart.26 He ultimately refuses and destroys his "half-finished creature" in secret, feeling "as if I had mangled the living flesh of a human being," a moment that suggests the experience of many women who took abortifacients or committed infanticide of unwanted children.27

Still, the public controversy surrounding abortion did not assume its polarizing modern form until the latter half of the twentieth century. Though not absent elsewhere, this polarization has been particularly virulent in the United States. American physicians led the effort to pass right to life laws, which made abortion illegal after conception, in every state between 1860 and 1880, and these laws went unchallenged until the 1960s. Right-to-life laws carried one important exception: they allowed doctors to perform abortions to save the life of the mother. Because childbirth was inherently dangerous, many doctors used their discretion to perform abortions more frequently than official laws and moral strictures may have seemed to condone. In the 1930s and 1940s, childbearing itself became safer, thus eliminating the argument that women's lives were potentially being saved by performing abortions. With the mother's life less often at stake, the philosophical question of fetal personhood became salient. Though backroom abortions remained common, legal medical abortions moved out of homes and into hospitals in order to prevent infection, making it more difficult for doctors to practice abortion without the awareness of their colleagues.28

In the 1960s and 1970s, abortion was taken out of the discretionary hands of physicians and returned to the public spotlight. In the early part of the 1960s, many news outlets covered cases of women unable to abort babies who would be born without fully formed limbs because their mothers took thalidomide. The media also followed mothers who contracted German measles during their pregnancy, and would give birth to blind, deaf, and cognitively disabled babies. As I've noted, innovations in ultrasound and other imaging technology made pictures of uncannily human-looking fetuses available to a large public in the famous 1965 edition of LIFE magazine. Feminist organizing throughout the 1960s also helped to raise national consciousness about abortion and to generate ballot initiatives.

Alongside advances in science, the inadequacy of existing legal frameworks to address pregnancy also stoked the controversy surrounding abortion. In adjudicating Roe v. Wade, the Court argued that a woman's right to privacy ensured her the right to an early abortion. They compared Roe to the other cases establishing a right to privacy, [End Page 226] which dealt with contraception, interracial marriage, home invasion, compulsory sterilization, and the education of one's children.29 But the justices also qualified their comparisons by alleging that the fetus was enough of a person, that abortion was sufficiently unlike these other cases (or in its words, "inherently different"), and that a woman could not be afforded a blanket right to choose abortion at any stage in her pregnancy.30 In other words, in the Court's eyes, a pregnant woman choosing an abortion was similar to a woman choosing to purchase contraception—but only until the pregnant woman's second trimester, when the fetus began to seem more like a rights-bearing person.

While the court compared choosing abortion to choosing contraception or educating one's children, legal scholars, philosophers, and ordinary citizens concocted their own analogies and generated hypotheticals to make claims about abortion and fetal personhood. Perhaps the most famous hypothetical regarding abortion is that provided by the philosopher Judith Jarvis Thomson. Imagine that one day, you awake to find that your circulatory system has been attached to a famous concert violinist who is ill—and you will be forced to sustain him for nine months. This would, Thomson argues, be an unjust imposition on a person's life; ergo, a mother should have the right to terminate her pregnancy. Thomson thus claims that even if the fetus were fully a person, its rights would still not trump the rights of the mother to control her own body.31 Other legal scholars and philosophers have compared the fetus to a body part, a parasite, an ailing individual that a Good Samaritan encounters, an acorn that will one day be an oak-tree, and a draft card—and the mother has been likened to, among other things, the subject under a totalitarian state.32

A broader public also participated in the legal competition to use analogies to characterize the fetus, albeit in a form that was often more rhetorically impassioned. Pro-life advocates called the fetus a slave, while pro-choice advocates claimed that the pregnant woman was the real slave.33 Pro-lifers characterized abortionists as treating the fetus as if it were "a mass of cells" or a "piece of meat."34 While science fiction gave pro-lifers a dystopian language to contend that people were being needlessly murdered, it also helped women express the helplessness they felt during pregnancy and abortion. The poet Adrienne Rich drew on science fiction when she compared the unwanted fetus to an "alien" invading a woman's body in Of Woman Born.35 A pro-choice amicus brief for Thornburgh v. American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (1986) quoted one woman who, in trying to represent how she felt coerced into bearing a child, said that she felt like a "baby [End Page 227] machine—an incubator without feelings."36 Likewise, in an anonymous 1976 article in the New York Times describing an abortion, an uncommonly early testimonial, the author wrote that "my body felt mine again instead of the eggshell it becomes when it's protecting someone else."37 She almost seemed to compare abortion to alien abduction, as she described how small black spots in the ceiling seemed to swell into "the shape of saucers" that "quiver[ed] in the air."38 The abortion itself, she claimed, felt like "the vacuuming of my uterus."39 The tropes of science fiction have provided women with a language to represent the experience of losing personal autonomy: being probed, being controlled or dominated, and forced to produce children.

As the proliferation of analogies intensified, legal scholars tried to formulate a more precise definition of personhood. "The right to personal privacy" established in Roe seemed inadequate or opaque, so these scholars began speaking of a generalized "right to personhood."40 In his treatise on constitutional law, Laurence Tribe defines this right to personhood as a right "to be master of the identity one creates in the world."41 Theorists like Tribe supposed the decisions to use contraception or to have an abortion were so intimately connected to who we are as people that the state could not interfere with them. But legal scholar Jed Rubenfeld has noted that the defense of abortion through a right to personhood—through a woman's right to self-definition—also smuggled in a conservative logic: it suggested that bearing children was intimately, inextricably connected to female identity.42 Personhood was often spoken of in terms of a person's right to "self-definition," and science fiction writers of the same period were acutely interested in the ways that allegedly free self-definition could be circumscribed either by the law or else by the cultural field, both of which shared exclusionary norms about who and what counted as a person.43


The great irony of Dick's reception is that while critics on the left like Frederic Jameson champion him for his progressive politics, he is also beloved by the evangelical right for his pro-life stance.44 In N. Katherine Hayles's influential reading, Dick is on the side of posthumanism, a philosophy that rejects the autonomy of the liberal person in favor of an understanding that "human life is embedded in a material world of great complexity, one on which we depend for our continued survival."45 But Hayles never considers Dick's pro-life stance, and I want to argue here that much of Dick's oeuvre can be read as an extended [End Page 228] meditation on abortion and the rights of the fetus. Dick's version of posthumanism entails expanding the category of the person to include two beings without their own fully human bodies—the android and its counterpart, the fetus.

As I've noted, Dick articulates his pro-life views most strenuously in the "The Pre-Persons." Nearly all of Dick's male characters criticize abortion during the story, but Walter, a child who has just turned twelve, is particularly incensed. Contemplating a passing abortion truck, he rails against abortion:

Why is it, he wondered, that the more helpless a creature, the easier it was for some people to snuff it? Like a baby in the womb; the original abortions, "pre-partums," or "pre-persons" they were called now. How could they defend themselves? Who would speak for them? All those lives, a hundred by each doctor a day … and all helpless and silent and then just dead. The fuckers, he thought. That's why they do it; they know they can do it; they get off on their macho power. And so a little thing that wanted to see the light of day is vacuumed out in less than two minutes. And the doctor goes on to the next chick.

("PP," 279)

Many of the signature themes of Dick's oeuvre, for which he is most beloved, appear in Walter's monologue; we see the redemptive power of love and concern for the downtrodden, as well as suspicion of the establishment. Not only does the story apply those themes to defend the fetus, but "The Pre-Persons" also paints women as having abandoned their natural maternal duties. In another moment in the story, Walter's father asserts: "It's a certain kind of woman advocating this all. They used to call them 'castrating females'" ("PP," 286). Walter even tells his mother that he'd like to commit acts of terrorism on an abortion clinic: "I'd wait until there were no kids in there, only county employees, and I'd firebomb it" ("PP," 278). As fanatical as Walter and his father may seem, the narrative's other perpsectives ultimately vindicate a pro-life position. Cynthia, the wife and mother in the family, says to her husband: "Let's have an abortion! Wouldn't that be neat? Doesn't that turn you on?" ("PP," 285). Ed Gantro, another father, is only slightly more detached than Walter; he complains that "the organism that is killed had no chance, no ability, to protect itself" ("PP," 283). Dick wrote an afterward to the story in 1978, in which he reaffirmed his position against "abortion on demand" ("PP," 393). He quoted from Martin Luther: "Hier steh' Ich; Ich kann nicht anders" ("Here I stand; I have no other choice") ("PP," 393). In 1980, he added an additional line, insisting that he was ultimately motivated by his "love for the children."46 [End Page 229]

The full-blown outrage at Roe v. Wade that appears in "The Pre-Persons" gradually developed over the course of Dick's career. Dick's very first novel that concerned abortion, The Man Whose Teeth Were All Exactly Alike, was a realist one. The novel is sometimes compared to Richard Yates's Revolutionary Road in its narration of the claustrophobia of suburban life. Through a series of chance events, Walter Dombrosio (perhaps the predecessor to the Walter of "The Pre-Persons") loses his job and is replaced by his wife, Sherry. When Sherry misbalances their checking account, Walter rapes her twice, denies her requests for an abortion, and hits her, ultimately forcing her to bear his child and lose her job.

To the present-day reader, this novel can feel like a powerful statement against female subjugation and for a woman's right to choose. In one dialogue, Walter threatens violence when Sherry thinks about getting an abortion:

"You can't keep me from getting my abortion. Dolly got an abortion a year ago when she was pregnant."

He said, "I'll keep you from getting it. You don't think I can? I'll drive you over to Sheriff Christen and have him arrest you for trying to commit a felony. For trying to murder my child."

"You liar," she said.

"I'll kill you," he said. "I'll beat the living hell out of you. And everybody'll be on my side because it's natural. Natural for a father to feel like that. With a wife like you, wanting to do a hideous unnatural act like that."

"It's just your word," she said. "I'll deny it. You know what I'll say? I'll say you got mad when you heard I was pregnant; you beat me up so I'd have a miscarriage."47

In light of Walter's violent temper and Sherry's sympathetic desire for an abortion, Dick may seem to be pro-choice in this early novel. But the novel also undercuts its apparent pro-choice sentiments by demonstrating Sherry's willingness to lie about the circumstances of her abortion. She later concedes, apologizing for herself: "If I was any real mother I wouldn't even consider getting an abortion."48 This paternalistic view was Dick's own in 1973, and it was likely his view in 1960, as well. Throughout the novel, several characters express the opinion that a woman's place is in the home, and at least one commentator has felt that the novel sides with Walter over Sherry.49

Others have felt that the quarrels between Walter and Sherry were based on Dick's own relationship with his wife Anne.50 A few months [End Page 230] after Dick finished the novel, his wife Anne became pregnant with her fifth child and wanted an abortion; Dick became irate and depressed, but unlike Walter, he eventually acquiesced and Anne had an illegal abortion in Seattle.51 Still, the abuse Sherry suffers as she experiences spousal rape, loses her job, and is confined to her home is haunting, to say the least, and so it seems reasonable to conclude that the realist novel allowed Dick the chance to dramatize his own conflictedness about abortion in two opposing perspectives, even if he veered toward the pro-life one.

As Dick abandoned realist fiction and began writing exclusively science fiction, he moved away from representing the specific situation of a woman who wanted an abortion and turned instead toward more abstract and existential questions. Thinking about abortion in the absence of its realist particulars enabled him to substitute the metaphysics of fetal personhood for the drama of undesired maternity. In 1962, for the first time, Dick associates the fetus with the android in We Can Build You, the novel that preceded Androids. This earlier novel anticipated many of the later one's aspects: sentient automata, a Rosen corporation, and a femme fatale named Pris. Begun in the aftermath of Anne's abortion, We Can Build You is the story of a corporation that builds two androids—one a completely faithful replica of Abraham Lincoln and the other of his Secretary of War, Edwin M. Stanton. Louis, the first-person narrator and protagonist of the story, explains that in this world, H-bomb testing has caused many congenital disorders. He describes one case that throws him "into a week-long depression … where the embryo disintegrates in the womb and is born in pieces, a jaw, an arm, handful of teeth, separate fingers."52 The Rosen Corporation creates androids in a barren, radioactive world of human sterility, just as a different Rosen Corporation will in Androids. For Dick, new machine life arises in worlds characterized by the failed reproduction of human life.

In We Can Build You, a rival corporation builds a partially formed John Wilkes Booth android, which Pris beats to death with her high heel. Anne Dick remembers the scene as Dick's fictional representation of her abortion: "[I]t's all in We Can Build You—in the novel Pris kills a little robot with her high heel."53 This is the passage to which she was referring:

The shoe smashed down on the head of the Booth simulacrum. Its heel burst into the thing's head, right behind the ear. "There," Pris said to Barrows, her eyes shining and wet, her mouth a thin contorted [End Page 231] frantic line. "Glap," the Booth simulacrum said. Its hands beat jerkily in the air; its feet drummed on the floor. Then it ceased moving. An inner wind convulsed it; its limbs floundered and twitched. It became inert.

(WCBU, 207)

In light of Anne Dick's comments, what seems at first glance to be a murder can actually be read as an abortion: a half-formed being is cruelly beaten to death by a woman who "brought … to life" and "mothered" an android (albeit a different one) (WCBU, 219). Both figures in the scene—the Booth simulacrum and Pris—are designed to ask us to question our definition of personhood. The poorly-constructed Booth simulacrum might be human; he seems to exhibit a kind of pain as it drums and jerks, but elsewhere in the novel, he is capable only of grinning emptily. Dick gestures at the question of whether it is fair to kill a humanoid being who has not fully developed cognitive capacities and who will also likely turn out to be evil. Pris deprives the android Booth of the same rights of which the real-life Booth would deprive slaves. But Pris, though a flesh-and-blood human, seems cold and impersonal when she aborts the android Booth. Her shoe becomes the subject of the sentence, creating a sense of inhuman agency, and while the android seems to display something resembling pain-behavior, Pris's mouth is "a thin contorted frantic line." After the scene, we are told, she "sipped her drink expressionlessly" (WCBU, 208). Louis is unsure how to feel about the act, oscillating between queasiness—"I did not feel able to stand any more"—and indifference: "I wondered if I cared whether it could be repaired or not" (WCBU, 208). Like Louis (and perhaps by extension Dick), who seems unsure about fetal personhood here, the nation had not yet been polarized by the abortion debate. As late as 1967, a perplexed Governor Reagan signed into California law one of the nation's most liberal abortion statutes, allowing abortion in cases where childbearing might affect a woman's mental health.54 But Dick's cruel representation of Pris suggests his lack of sympathy for the woman who chooses an abortion, and foreshadows his later misogynistic entrenchment in the pro-life camp.

Dick's androids reveal how fraught defining the person can be, both in the past and in the future. The androids, all of whom are recreations of figures from the period of the Civil War, evoke the Fourteenth Amendment, which states that no state shall "deprive any person of life, liberty, or property without due process of the law"—and which engendered in Roe v. Wade the question of to whom "person" is supposed to refer.55 The android Lincoln quotes the real-life Lincoln, [End Page 232] who defended African-American rights but not equality: "the Negro … is not my equal in many respects, certainly not in color—perhaps not in intellectual and moral endowments" (WCBU, 108).56 We also hear android Lincoln contend that he, although a machine, must be a person because he has a "soul" (WCBU, 110). His human interlocutor insists that there is no such thing as a soul. Either both machine and person tragically fail to recognize their own souls (or lack thereof), or else this uncannily humanlike android belies his own claim that only beings with souls are people. And yet, even if Dick resists the Christian logic that fetuses have souls, he may also argue for a pro-life posthumanism, which would hold that irrespective of the existence of the soul, we should recognize the humanity of certain beings, like androids and fetuses, whom we might not normally include as people.

In a subsequent book, Dr. Bloodmoney, Or How We Got Along After the Bomb, Dick attempts to change the narrative around a powerful pro-choice image—the thalidomide baby. Dr. Bloodmoney features a little girl who lives with a conjoined twin inside her—another birth disorder caused by radioactive fallout. This fetal-like being ("a homunculus") is eventually able to exit her body and save the world by inhabiting the body of an evil man, Hoppy Harrington, who, armless and legless, appears to have been modeled after a thalidomide baby ("a phocomelus").57 The events of the novel can be understood as referring to an incident in 1962, when the story of Sherri Finkbine helped make abortion a countrywide issue. Finkbine was a minor celebrity from a children's television show who had taken thalidomide before understanding its effects. She was denied an abortion by her hospital in Arizona and had to travel to Sweden for her procedure; her story was covered on national news.58 In Dick's novel, Hoppy, the phocomelus, represents the image that would drive women to want access to abortion—the thalidomide baby. Growing up ignored and neglected, Hoppy takes his revenge on society by establishing complete control over the media via satellite. His counterpart is Bill, the heroic fetal homunculus, who is able to stop Hoppy by taking possession of his body. The novel thus displaces one widespread pro-choice cultural image—the thalidomide baby, who threatens to dominate the media (and who is unfairly spurned)—with a pro-life one—the good-hearted and talented fetal being who is able to make the best of a limited body once he inhabits it.

In The Crack in Space, Dick takes on fears about overpopulation that helped to lend further cultural support to the pro-choice cause. Stanford professor Paul Ehrlich's bestselling The Population Bomb [End Page 233] (1968) was one prominent narrative suggesting the right to an abortion as a potential remedy to an impending Malthusian population crisis.59 In Dick's futuristic novel, the world is massively overpopulated, many people of color have decided to put themselves into cryogenic suspension to wait for a better era, and abort-consults are widely and readily available in the phone book. Poor people are taken off government aid unless they have abortions; the novel opens with a couple of color who want to freeze themselves because of a pregnancy. Myra Sands, the novel's abortionist, is troublingly blithe when the couple reluctantly approaches her in her office: "It's routine. We can arrange for it by noon today and have it done by six tonight. At any one of several free government abort clinics here in the area."60 She then takes a phone call. Dick's novel imagines abortion as a deeply flawed solution to the overpopulation problem, because concerns about overpopulation might disproportionately drive poor people and people of color to abort.

Looser, more implicit references to abortion characterize Dick's oeuvre, in which the theme of conjoined persons frequently recurs. Not long after Dick was born, his twin sister died of malnourishment; a sense of guilt followed him throughout his life, and one can see the state of parasitic conjoinment as a recurring theme throughout his work.61 In Ubik, for instance, many of the characters are suspended in half-life, stored in cryogenic tanks while on the verge of death. The teenage Jory gains energy by eating the other people in suspension. At the denouement of Ubik, the heroic Ella Runciter is going to escape Jory and half-life when she is "reborn into another womb," as if she and the other people in half-life were frozen embryos struggling to survive.62 For Dick, when the experience of conjoinment involves an attempt to dominate the weaker, conjoined person, it is terrifying and awful. When characters resist being terminated—conjoinment becomes a blessing, as it inevitably results in hope, love, and interdependence. Hayles is not wrong to note that Dick, ambivalent about liberal person-hood, asks for "tolerance and affection for the creatures, biological and mechanical, with whom [his characters] share the planet."63 But Hayles fails to note that the fetus is emphatically included as one of those creatures—and that urging care and affection for the fetus can unfairly stigmatize those women who choose abortions.

In other works, Dick seems more of a gender essentialist than Hayles and others acknowledge. In a 1972 speech entitled "The Android and the Human," Dick recounts his experience of caring for an 18-year old girl who had an abortion at five-and-a-half-months. Rather than reproach her, he remembers being solicitous for her well-being. Her [End Page 234] breasts bear milk, because her body is unaware that her fetus had been aborted. Dick uses this milk as a symbol of the resilient lifeforce flowing through her, which Dick hopes human beings will carry into the future:

But—I think, I believe—the force that is her, so to speak the swelling into maturity of her breasts, the looking forward into the future of her physical body, even at the moment that mentally and spiritually she was virtually destroyed—I hope, anyhow, that that force will prevail. If it does not, then there is nothing left, as far as I am concerned. The future as I conceive it will not exist.64

Dick asserts a paternal affection that uncomfortably verges on voyeurism; he tries to show that the girl's abortion is a tragic decision that reveals her humanity. The legal defenses of a right to personhood that were released over the next few years similarly suggested that a woman's identity was defined by her capacity to reproduce.65 But Dick takes the essentialist reasoning of those opinions to a logical extreme. If a woman is defined by the mandates of her physical body, then she must be mother to the future of humanity whether she wants to be or not. For Dick, a woman's reproductive organs represent not just her own identity, but the character and future of the human race.

In Androids, the androids evoke the figure of the African slave, a trope which, as I have shown, was often rhetorically leveraged by pro-life advocates to argue for fetal personhood. The Voigt-Kampff test, which is used to detect and exclude androids, suggests race and slavery, since it measures the androids' blushing reaction. Eighteenth-century philosophies of sympathy contrasted the transparent, blushing white face to the inhuman, opaque black one.66 As Michael Bérubé points out, the Voigt-Kampff test also recalls eugenics of the mentally disabled, since it was developed to identify and sterilize "specials," people neurologically damaged by radiation.67 The persecution and extermination of the androids in the novel thus loosely allegorize a pro-life position, which indicts abortion both for treating humans like slaves and for its potential eugenics of the disabled.68

The androids further bring to mind the African slave insofar as the novel foregrounds their capacity to respond to aesthetic stimuli. Simon Gikandi has argued that eighteenth-century African slaves attempted to stake claims to personhood and the public sphere by showcasing their aesthetic sensibilities. White thinkers like Thomas Jefferson claimed that African slaves could not be rights-bearing people because they had no capacity for the aesthetic. But the aesthetic also became a route [End Page 235] through which Africans and others excluded from personhood could demonstrate their own deservingness to be included in the category of the person. Gikandi argues that, for instance, "when slaves in the Dombi plantation in Suriname or the South Carolina rice country rehearsed elaborate Kongo dances or danced the Juba, they were staking a moral claim to the public sphere."69 A similar logic—by which the androids demonstrate their own unique personhood by relating to a series of artworks—takes place in Androids.

In particular, two of the androids, Luba Luft and Phil Resch, demonstrate that they deserve to be included in the social polity by defining their android-identities in relationship to artworks. At the same time, they imply the literary legitimacy of science fiction. Luba Luft stakes her claim to personhood when she becomes an opera singer on Earth. Her participation in The Magic Flute represents her own desire for freedom from her chattel status as an android, since the opera itself is about a woman who is rescued from imprisonment by a magic flute. Wolfgang Mozart's highbrow opera Magic Flute is also notable for its mass appeal, a detail that suggests Dick's own attempt to combine his literary ambitions and the science fiction novel. Not long before Deckard retires her, Luba asks him to buy her a reproduction of Edvard Munch's Puberty, a painting that represents a young girl's isolation and discomfort with her own naked, pubescent body. Insofar as the print is a mechanical reproduction, it becomes an expression of Luft's own feelings about her existence as a female android, removed from naturalized heterosexual reproduction. Phil Resch, the android-hunter who doesn't realize that he himself is an android, also betrays his own identity in his relationship to Munch. Resch prefers modernist artists, like Pablo Picasso, who represent fragmented individuals, claiming that "[r]ealism in art doesn't interest me" (A, 139). When he sees Munch's Scream, he thinks that "this is how an andy [android] must feel," and he claims that the portrait isn't "representational" (A, 130, 9). Resch marks out a lineage of artworks that, like the science fiction novel, upset the realist representation of characters as humans with coherent identities and rich interiority, in favor of fragmentation and distortion. At the same time that he establishes the science fiction android within a lineage of the fragmented, anti-realist character that includes Picasso and Munch, he also stakes a claim to social person-hood by showcasing his aesthetic sense.

Dick also imagines personhood and self-definition as intimately connected to human fertility, as when the android Rachael Rosen gives the following speech: [End Page 236]

How does it feel to have a child? How does it feel to be born, for that matter? We're not born; we don't grow up; instead of dying from illness or old age, we wear out like ants. Ants again; that's what we are. Not you; I mean me. Chitinous reflex-machines who aren't really alive." She twisted her head to one side, said loudly, "I'm not alive! You're not going to bed with a woman. Don't be disappointed; okay? Have you ever made love to an android before?"

(A, 193).

Rachael cycles through various terms to indicate her lack of personhood—"ant," "chitinous reflex-machines," "not alive"—because she is outside the ostensibly holistic process of childbirth, neither able to be born nor to give birth. Rachael's questions transition between those of the infertile or aborting mother ("How does it feel to have a child?") and the unborn fetus ("How does it feel to be born?"), precisely because, for Dick, both figures are elements of a cold, dystopian world characterized by infertility, surveillance, and impersonality. Rachael is thus a figure for a fetus who is never born and for a mother who is unable to give birth. For Dick, both the aborted fetus and the infertile mother are subversions of their natural, human functions. If, when Deckard administers the Voigt-Kampff test, Rachael seems as if she speaks "from personal experience" about getting an abortion, the reason is that as an android, she has been permanently sterilized (A, 50). Rachael has, in other words, had her personhood taken away from her—understood here as a right to define herself by having a child. Rachael's oppression, she suggests, is her exclusion from the cycle of birth, life, and death—but implicit in such a suggestion is Dick's familiar idea that a natural woman is a child-bearing woman.

This deprivation is further highlighted by the fact that Rachael's name is probably a biblical allusion to Rachel, the wife of Isaac, who is seen as the child-bearing mother of the Jewish people. Rachel was infertile until God allowed her to become pregnant; the biblical story emphasizes pregnancy as a divine gift. Rachel also literally means "ewe," a subtle reference to the electric sheep of the title; Deckard owns an electric "black-faced Suffolk ewe" (A, 43).70 Rachael should be the mother to a nation, she should be a childbearing ewe, but as a woman cut off from her biology, she is closer to the mechanical sheep, unable to truly be alive.

Dick thought that science fiction could teach us to recognize that life and female pregnancy are divine gifts. For Dick, the fact that science fiction's detractors habitually critiqued the genre as mechanistic or android-like meant that authors of science fiction were uniquely capable of appreciating beings like the fetus, whose personhood went [End Page 237] unacknowledged and unfulfilled. In fact, later in life, Dick would devote much of his writing to trying to understand the events he called "2–3–74," a series of mystical, theophanic visions he experienced over the months of February and March of 1974.71 He had many explanations and descriptions of these visions, among them: contact from God, from a cosmic source known as VALIS (Vast Active Living Intelligence System), or from the late Bishop James Pike.72 But he also thought of it as tantamount to God's endowment of the fetus with a soul, explaining the experience in an unpublished segment of his "Exegesis": "a Soul can enter a full grown body as well as that of the fetus."73

At certain moments in his career, Dick cast doubt on the category of the autonomous liberal person in favor of a posthumanism that would require us to care for beings like the fetus who might not fully qualify as persons. But particularly in texts like Androids and "The Pre-Persons," Dick seems less to want to abandon the category of the person altogether than to suggest that it rightly encompasses beings without their own fully human bodies—a description that applies to both the android and the fetus. As he advocates for fetal personhood, he defines a woman's personhood according to her capacity to bear children.


In the years that followed, many science fiction writers would emulate Dick by extending cultural analogies that justified or denied fetal personhood into their fiction. One group of science fiction authors magnified the popular fear that fetuses are full persons frivolously being killed. In Ellison's "Croatoan," a woman demands that the protagonist, Gabe, go into the sewers and find an aborted fetus who has been flushed down the toilet. Gabe eventually becomes the father figure to a population of fetuses and alligators living in the sewers beneath the city in a colony they call Croatoan, after the lost settlers of Roanoke. Likewise, in Kurt Vonnegut's "The Big Space Fuck," published in Ellison's second landmark anthology of New Wave science fiction, Again, Dangerous Visions, any woman who volunteers for a free abortion receives her choice of "a bathroom scale or a table lamp"—because of overpopulation.74 Later in life, Vonnegut would make statements in support of a woman's right to choose, and Ellison claimed in his introduction to "Croatoan" that he was not "anti-abortion" but that he was "anti-waste, anti-pain, anti-self-brutalization," bragging that he had a vasectomy two weeks after he wrote the story.75 But both men still [End Page 238] used science fiction to depict imagined scenes of deviant maternity and callow disregard for human life.

In her fiction, Sheldon (better known by her male pseudonym, Tiptree, Jr.) contested the pro-life accusation that abortions treated human fetuses as if they were pieces of meat. In 1973, the year of Roev. Wade, she wrote to her congressman to tell him of her abortion, insisting that her "embryo … was a rudimentary blob of flesh slightly bigger than a lima bean."76 "Morality Meat," a story that she published under the pseudonym Raccoona Sheldon, criticizes the Right for its focus on fetuses and relative apathy toward the fate of infants. Sheldon describes a world in which cattle and poultry are mostly extinct and the law has rendered abortion illegal. As a result, a cabal of men has been secretly eating unwanted babies. Much of the story focuses on an adoption center as it is toured by victorious pro-life advocates, unaware of what will happen to the babies who are not adopted. One of the visitors has delivered televised Congressional testimony, holding up fetuses preserved in bottles, asking "who in the audience could kill or deliberately tear apart 'this beautiful little person?'"77 But this same man, when finding that one of his bottles broke in his pocket, also said, off-camera, "Get this thing off me!"78 By a concealed and abstract analogy, fetuses can be made to seem like people, but in material reality, Sheldon believes that the fetus is closer to a gross thing ("a lima bean")—and the adoption center is exactly what pro-life advocates call abortion centers: a butcher shop or meat market. "Morality Meat" is thus a cautionary tale against those, like the visitors, who would forget the materiality of the fetus's body, as well as the body of the adopted infant, in favor of an abstract discourse of personhood.

Butler's "Bloodchild" can be read as the fictional incarnation of and precursor to MacKinnon's claim that "on the biological level, the fetus is more like a parasite than a [body] part."79 The story concerns an isolated colony of human beings who are driven off their home planet and find themselves placed in a preserve on a planet of giant insectlike aliens, the T'lic. "Bloodchild" is, as Butler puts it, a "pregnant man story" (B, 30). On this preserve, male humans are inseminated as hosts for parasitic alien babies or "grubs," while female humans continue the human race (B, 16). If the male host is not cut open in time, these grubs will devour the man hosting them. The story follows a young male human, Gan, as he comes to terms with his obligation to carry parasitic alien babies. As with Shelley and Dick, part of Butler's interest in tragic and complex pregnancy may stem from her biography: Butler was born only after her mother had given birth to four stillborn [End Page 239] children.80 Throughout her work, Butler represents the fetus as an alien body that is coercively borne; the Xenogenesis trilogy (1987–1989) tells the story of Lilith, a female protagonist who is unwittingly inseminated with a human-alien hybrid. At various moments in the Patternist series (1976–1984), too, Butler's characters find themselves involuntarily impregnated with four-legged alien hybrids and explicitly consider, but decide against, abortion.81

In "Bloodchild," by inflicting pregnancy on a male character, Butler forces the traditionally male readership of science fiction to imagine the situation of a pregnant woman who appears to give consent and love her partner but who is also coerced into bearing children.82 The aliens seem like menacing, insect-like creatures who implant eggs in humans while coercing consent, but Gan also realizes that he has deep feelings for T'Gatoi. When T'Gatoi contemplates giving her eggs to his sister instead, he protests, partially because he doesn't want his sister to bear the parasites, but also because, as he tells her, he wants "to keep you for myself" (B, 28). Butler notes in an interview that "men tend to see [the story as] a horrible case of slavery, and women tend to see that, oh well, they had caesarians, big deal."83 What seems like a case of domination and oppression to men seems, to the radical feminist, like an experience of love and pregnancy.84

Thinking about the experience of pregnancy as bearing a parasite under conditions of slavery allows Butler to approach the radical feminist critique of the liberal rhetoric of choice and personhood. T'Gatoi tells Gan in "Bloodchild": "You were the one making the choices tonight"—when his choices involved being impregnated with an alien baby, delegating the pregnancy to his sister, or suicide (B, 28). T'Gatoi further implies that the real choice was already made when she selected Gan at birth: "I chose you. I believed you had grown to choose me" (B, 28). In the afterword to "Bloodchild," Butler describes the story as that of "a man becoming pregnant as an act of love—choosing pregnancy in spite of as well as because of surrounding difficulties" (B, 30). But it can never be entirely clear whether Gan has chosen to conceive out of love for T'Gatoi or out of something like an adaptive preference—because loving T'Gatoi best enables him to survive. The conditions of alien matriarchy belie the putative freedom of Gan's choice. And yet, the interpretive question the story provokes is: does Gan truly feel love for T'Gatoi? If MacKinnon, in calling the fetus a parasite, does not seem to imagine much love between mother and her unborn child or between a mother and father, Butler's task, in fictionalizing a parasitic fetus over an extended narrative, is to [End Page 240] represent how love can both sustain gendered power imbalances and maybe even exist in spite of them.

As she reveals the limitations of "choice," so too does Butler ironize the word "person." The giant insect-like aliens, the T'lic, seem to have the fullest understanding of the word; they claim that they saw the humans "as people and gave them the Preserve when they still tried to kill us as worms" (B, 25). "Do you care?" demands Gan of T'Gatoi, "Do you care that it's me?" (B, 28). Gan suggests that what seems like a valuation of specificity and uniqueness in the T'lic's preservation of human personhood may simply be a way of ensuring quality, compliant breeding stock who are ultimately interchangeable. Though Butler has insisted that the story is not about slavery, she does include the detail that Gan's ancestors were "fleeing … from their own kind who would have killed or enslaved them" (B, 25). It is thus possible to read her ironization of terms like choice and person as rooted not only in an intellectual position approaching radical feminism but also as based in the particular experience of African-American women. Post Roe, African-American women have had the legal right to choose abortion, but their choices have been even more socially controlled than other women's, whether through racially targeted birth control and eugenics or through Supreme Court decisions like Maher v. Roe (1977) and Harris v. McRae (1980). These decisions denied poor—and disproportionately black—women economic access to abortion.85

Just as Frankenstein can be read as an allegory of both childbirth and female authorship, "Bloodchild" might also be said to represent childbirth in terms of the literary marketplace that constrained Butler's ambitions as a science fiction author.86 As Gerry Canavan observes, Butler's repeated scenes of women slowly and reluctantly coming to terms with their duty to bear alien hybrids often look much bleaker in draft form. Butler felt torn between the desire to write what she called a "NO-BOOK," which would realize her own ambition to represent reproductive failure, and a "YES-BOOK," a bestseller that would appeal to a marketplace that demanded narratives of successful reproduction.87 In the original draft of Xenogenesis, written just after "Bloodchild," the alien-human hybrids echo thalidomide babies: they are "armless, legless horror[s]" who are often stillborn—but Butler revises this narrative to be, like "Bloodchild," a story about reconciling oneself to an involuntary pregnancy.88 In her afterword to "Bloodchild," Butler would call it a story about "paying the rent," about what humans stranded on a foreign planet could trade with their alien overlords (B, 31). In light of the years that Butler spent working blue-collar jobs [End Page 241] and in light of her own struggles to make a living as a science fiction writer—to pay her own rent—it does not seem unreasonable to read "Bloodchild" as an allegory of artistic production. Like Butler, who feels coerced by the marketplace into crafting narratives of reproductive futurity, and not of abortion or failed childbirth, Gan is similarly forced into the painful production of creatures that are not his own, and that will satisfy the demands of others, in order to survive. This allegory contrasts with post-Frankenstein science fiction narratives like Androids that neglect both the physical demands of parturition and the material conditions of imagination.

Butler, then, like Dick, commented on the abortion debate in her imagination of the literary field. Dick imagined that both the fetus and the science fiction novel suffered from a lack of social recognition; Butler, by contrast, viewed her science fiction as constrained by the market's need for pro-natal stories. Whereas Dick's androids seem only to need to be recognized as human in order to become people, Butler's pregnant man needs, more than the negative rights that come with legal recognition, financial independence to be truly free.


During a crucial period in the development of the modern genre of science fiction, its preexisting speculative character co-evolved alongside abortion law, which traded routinely in speculative analogy. In the 1960s, Dick would often seem to uncannily anticipate some of the rhetorical moves in much of the next decade's legal discourse about abortion. But close observation of historical timing reveals that Dick's lifelong residence in California, one of the first states to loosen restrictions on abortion, had him thinking about the problem ahead of much of the rest of the nation.89 His imagination had been schooled early by personal experience and state politics.

That imagination still lingers with us today. As the debate about abortion continues, contemporary science fiction authors in a variety of different media have been no less active in fictionalizing the discourse surrounding abortion. Following Dick, a number of science fiction writers imagine abortion along pro-life lines, excising the woman's body and comparing the fetus to a persecuted, independent being. For instance, a variation of "The Pre-Persons," Neal Shusterman's young adult novel Unwind (2007), concerns a society where parents cannot have abortions, but choose to "unwind" children between the ages of 13 and 18. Shusterman asks his young adult audience to [End Page 242] identify with fetuses by imagining abortion as if it were happening to someone their own age.90

Other writers follow Butler in using science fiction to represent the experience of pregnancy as invasion or infestation. Like Butler, the films Alien 3 (1997) and Prometheus (2012), as well as an episode of Star Trek: Enterprise entitled "Unexpected" (2001) conceive of the fetus as a parasitic alien, but these pregnancies all result from cases of rape or involuntary insemination; they do not dramatize the underlying power structures that routinely marginalize women through the rhetoric of choice and personhood.91 Atwood's MaddAddam features a character, Amanda, who is accidentally inseminated by bioengineered humanoid "Crakers."92 As in Butler's fiction, in the post-apocalyptic world of the text, abortion is not an option for Amanda. But instead of channeling the terror of conceiving an alien baby, Atwood has Amanda and her friends prefer that the baby be a child of the Crakers. They shun the other possibility, that the child is the spawn of the psychopathic humans who have raped Amanda repeatedly. The novel becomes an affirmation of posthumanist interdependence and comingling among species—even bioengineered ones. If in A Handmaid's Tale, Atwood's dystopian imagination was fueled by evangelical threats to a woman's right to choose, MaddAddam has her more concerned about a future when the human race has to come to terms with bioengineered humanoid hybrids. Unlike their predecessors, many of the more recent mass cultural imaginations of abortion in science fiction exist alongside of questions of bioethics begotten by new technologies like stem cell research, cloning, and surrogacy.

With Planned Parenthood v. Casey, the law's imagination of abortion became more firmly tethered to science. Casey affirmed a woman's right to an early-term abortion but observed that viability—and thus the permissibility of an abortion—was shifting earlier to 24 weeks. The Court noted that viability may become "even slightly earlier if fetal respiratory capacity can somehow be enhanced in the future."93 The decision invited the public to imagine speculative futures as advances in science rendered fetal viability a possibility earlier and earlier in pregnancy.94 In a famous and peculiar formulation in Casey, the Supreme Court described the liberty to choose an abortion as "the right to define one's own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life."95 In the Court's eyes, abortion was not just a woman's choice, but rather a demonstration of one's beliefs about humanity's place in the universe. For the Court as for many Americans, abortion had become an issue of liberty imagined [End Page 243] on a cosmic scale. As the genre that also conceives of human life on a cosmic scale, science fiction has both reflected and abetted this cultural evolution.

Figure 1. "The Star-Child," in 2001: A Space Odyssey, dir. Stanley Kubrick (New York: MGM, 1968).
Click for larger view
View full resolution
Figure 1.

"The Star-Child," in 2001: A Space Odyssey, dir. Stanley Kubrick (New York: MGM, 1968).

One might see this evolution as predicted by the end of Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), when a giant fetus, the Star-Child, approaches the earth (Figure). Diegetically, the Star-Child represents the rebirth of the human species, but the moment also shows the capacity of the science fiction film to represent the cosmos and the evolution of human life on a grand scale. And yet in celebrating science fiction, Kubrick channels the famous 1965 fetal photos of LIFE magazine, which helped to spark the abortion debate and also omitted the woman's body parts. This celebration of the science fiction genre is thus linked to an implicitly pro-life imagination of birth that does not include women.96 But looked at in retrospect, the Star-Child also seems to allegorize the way that science fiction has helped to make fetal personhood a metaphysical, cosmic issue.

The fact that science fiction has helped to make abortion a question of the meaning of humanity and the universe may explain certain feminist science fiction writers' ambivalence about the genre. In 1992, the same year as Casey, Le Guin traded science fiction for realism in "Standing Ground." "Standing Ground" is the story of a teenage girl, Delaware, who takes her pregnant, mentally disabled mother, Sharee, to [End Page 244] an abortion clinic. The story features a familiar competition of analogies to characterize the fetus and the abortion. Pro-life evangelists dub the clinic "a Butcher shop," whereas the doctor compares "aspiration" to "a haircut."97 The callousness of these metaphors suggests that each fetus is different and that only the mother can characterize her relationship to it. Whereas her last fetus felt like a part of her, Sharee feels this fetus is "like a hangnail," "a wart," or "a scab" that's preventing her from being "whole."98 The speculative analogies that science fiction relies on help Sharee characterize her own pregnancy, but they seem invalid when others apply them to her body. In the same year that the Supreme Court would imagine abortion as a mystery of the cosmos, Le Guin seemed to feel that it was no longer conscionable for her to do so.

Though science fiction seems partially responsible for making the abortion debate metaphysical, science fiction about abortion may still have lessons of value. Even though analogies continue to characterize the rhetoric around abortion, perhaps the sole point of agreement between the two sides is that the abortion debate is not based in any kind of analogy. For pro-lifers, fetuses are not like humans; they are humans. "These people kill babies," the writer Patricia Lockwood remembers her pro-life mother telling her as a child in the early 1990s.99 For pro-choicers, fetuses are not people. The feminist legal theorist Drucilla Cornell claims that any analogy between the fetus and the person reduces the woman to "a mere environment for the fetus."100 For Cornell, even late stage abortions should be legal in order to preserve a woman's "most basic sense of self."101 Both viewpoints diverge from Johnson's claim that "arguments for abortion for and against abortion are structured through and through by the rhetorical limits and possibilities of something akin to apostrophe."102 In approaching abortion through aliens, cyborgs, and talking squids, science fiction retains a consciousness that we need a language to talk about beings who both do and do not resemble humans. To Johnson's emphasis on apostrophe, the genre of science fiction adds the consciousness that the rhetoric of the abortion debate has historically been rooted in speculative analogy.

Palmer Rampell
Yale University


I would like to thank Amy Hungerford, R. John Williams, Michael Warner, Jordan Brower, Margaret Deli, Finola Prendergast, and the readers at ELH for commenting on this article in draft form, as well as Steph Burt and Alfred Guy, Jr. for suggesting potential texts. I also presented excerpts and versions of the piece to audiences at Yale, Harvard-ACLA, and California State Univ., Fullerton. I am grateful for their attention and feedback. [End Page 245]

2. Abraham Lincoln, The Language of Liberty: The Political Speeches and Writings of Abraham Lincoln, ed. Joseph R. Fornieri (New York: Regnery Publishing, 2009), 224.

3. Vanessa Williams, "Ben Carson likens abortion to slavery, wants to see Roe v. Wade overturned," The Washington Post, 25 October 2015,; Thomas W. Hilgers, Marjory Mecklenburg, and Gayle Riordan, "Is Abortion the Best We Have to Offer? A Challenge to the Abortive Society," in Abortion and Social Justice, ed. Thomas W. Hilgers, M. D., and Gayle Riordan (New York: Sheed & Ward, 1972).

4. Philip K. Dick, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (New York: Ballantine Books, 1996), 17. Hereafter abbreviated A and cited parenthetically by page number.

5. For Dick's views on abortion, see the Dick biography by Lawrence Sutin, Divine Invasions: A Life of Philip K. Dick (New York: Carroll & Graf, 1989), 108, 109, 124, and 253. To my knowledge, the only previous critic to note "The Pre-Persons" and Dick's stance on abortion is Christopher Palmer in Philip K. Dick: Exhilaration and Terror of the Postmodern (Liverpool: Liverpool Univ. Press, 2003), but while admirable for considering Dick's uncomfortable politics, his argument does not trace Dick's engagement with abortion through his fiction beyond "The Pre-Persons" and his realist novel, The Man Whose Teeth Were All Exactly Alike (written 1960, published in 1984).

6. Dick, "The Pre-Persons," in The Eye of The Sibyl and Other Classic Stories (New York: Citadel, 2000), 277, 275, 281. Hereafter abbreviated "PP" and cited parenthetically by page number.

7. Mark McGurl, The Program Era: Postwar Fiction and the Rise of Creative Writing (Cambridge: Harvard Univ. Press, 2011), 26.

8. Dwight Macdonald, interview by Michael Wreszin, in Interviews with Dwight Macdonald (Jackson: Univ. Press of Mississippi, 2003), 38.

9. Quoted in David Barnett, "Science Fiction: The Genre That Dare Not Speak Its Name," The Guardian, 27 January 2009,

10. See Octavia E. Butler, "Bloodchild," in Bloodchild and Other Stories (New York: Seven Stories, 1996), hereafter abbreviated B and cited parenthetically by page number; Lilith's Brood (New York: Open Road, 2012), which was originally published as Dawn (1987), Adulthood Rites (1988), and Imago (1989); Ursula K. Le Guin, "Standing Ground," in Unlocking the Air and Other Stories (New York: Harper Collins, 1996), 67–81; "The Princess (1982)," in Dancing at the Edge of the World: Thoughts on Words, Women, Places (New York: Grove Press, 1989), 75–79; Harlan Ellison, "Croatoan," in Strange Wine (New York: Harper & Row, 1978), 17–35; Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. "The Big Space Fuck," in Again, Dangerous Visions, ed. Ellison (New York: Doubleday, 1972), 263–273; James Tiptree, Jr., "Morality Meat," in Crown of Stars (New York: Tom Doherty Associates, 1988), 69–95; and Margaret Atwood, A Handmaid's Tale (New York: Anchor Books, 1998).

11. For science fiction, Dick, and posthumanism, see N. Katherine Hayles, How We Became Posthuman: Virtual Bodies in Cybernetics, Literature, and Informatics (Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press, 1999), 5, 160–92. See also Donna Haraway, "The Cyborg Manifesto," in The Cybercultures Reader, ed. David Bell and Barbara M. [End Page 246] Kennedy (New York: Routledge, 2000), 291–323. Haraway famously treats the cyborg or android as "an ironic political myth faithful to feminism, socialism, and materialism," citing Blade Runner but also ignoring Dick's influential pro-life vision of the android (291). Haraway has been qualified by scholars who note that the fluidity of the cyborg can be used to make the "fetal cyborg" seem like a naturalized person—a process in which Dick participates (Heather Latimer, Reproductive Acts: Sexual Politics in North American Fiction and Film [Montreal: McGill-Queen's Press, 2013], 113).

12. Barbara Johnson, "Apostrophe, Animation, and Abortion," diacritics 16.1 (1986): 34. For Johnson, female poets tend be particularly sensitive to this rhetorical problem; their poems about abortion reveal a conflictedness about apostrophe, which constructs a fetal addressee as both a person and not-a-person at the same time. Jonathan Crewe responds to Johnson by arguing that historical discourse, as much as gender, mediates responses to abortion. For Crewe, poems and accounts by Ben Jonson and John Donne suggest that two seventeenth-century male poets experienced what Johnson treats as exclusive to twentieth-century female poets: anxiety about the connection between cultural and biological parenthood. See Crewe, "Baby Killers," differences: A Journal of Feminist Cultural Studies 7.3 (1995): 1–23.

13. See Rosalind Pollack Petchesky, "Fetal Images: The Power of Visual Culture in the Politics of Reproduction," Feminist Studies 13.2 (1987): 263–92; Barbara Duden, Disembodying Women: Perspectives on Pregnancy and the Unborn, trans. Lee Hoinacki (Cambridge: Harvard Univ. Press, 1993); Lauren Berlant, "America, 'Fat,' the Fetus," boundary 2 21.3 (1994): 145–95; and Valerie Hartouni, Cultural Conceptions: On Reproductive Technologies and the Making of Life (Minneapolis: Univ. of Minnesota Press, 2008). For further feminist engagement with fetal personhood, see also the essays in the volume Fetal Subjects, Feminist Positions, ed. Lynn M. Morgan and Meredith W. Michaels (Philadelphia: Univ. of Pennsylvania Press, 1999). See, most recently, Carol Sanger, About Abortion: Terminating Pregnancy in Twenty-First Century America (Cambridge: Belknap Press of Harvard Univ. Press, 2017), which reads culture alongside law to demonstrate that while abortion has been grounded in a right to privacy, there exists an often harmful discourse of secrecy surrounding abortion.

14. Christina Hauck, "Abortion and the Individual Talent," ELH 70.1 (2003): 225.

15. See Karen Weingarten, Abortion in the American Imagination: Before Life and Choice, 1880–1940 (Rutgers Univ. Press, 2014). See also Meg Gillette, "Modern American Abortion Narratives and the Century of Silence," Twentieth-Century Literature 58.4 (2012): 663–87, which argues that literary narratives of the 1910s-1940s represented abortion at a time when public discourse about abortion was largely silent, thus laying the groundwork for the decriminalization of abortion later in the century.

16. See Latimer.

17. The classic account of science fiction's function as a genre remains Darko Suvin's "cognitive estrangement," which suggests that science fiction conjures worlds that are unfamiliar but also recognizable as reflections of our own—and which promotes intellectual comparison between the two ("On the Poetics of the Science Fiction Genre," College English 34.3 [1972]: 372). More recently, Seo Young Chu has argued persuasively that science fiction is better able to represent cognitively estranging aspects of the world than traditional realism. See Seo Young Chu, Do Metaphors Dream of Literal Sleep? (Cambridge: Harvard Univ. Press, 2011). These are both essentially ahistorical accounts. Whereas Chu seems to take for granted that some referents are inherently estranging, I would argue that one important reason why abortion is cognitively estranging is that the law, conceived as a liberal system of distinct persons, [End Page 247] struggles to represent pregnancy. Science fiction itself thus evolved to compensate for a deficient legal system.

18. See Petchesky, 263–92.

19. See Johnson, 29–47.

20. See Deborah Nelson, Pursuing Privacy in Cold War America (New York: Columbia Univ. Press, 2002), 112–41.

21. Judith Wilt, Abortion, Choice, and Contemporary Fiction: The Armageddon of the Maternal Instinct (Univ. of Chicago Press, 1990), 8.

22. On the literary field, see Pierre Bourdieu, "The Field of Cultural Production, or: the Economic World Reversed," in The Field of Cultural Production: Essays on Art and Literature, ed. Randal Johnson (New York: Columbia Univ. Press, 1993), 29–73.

23. See Ellen Moers, "Female Gothic: The Monster's Mother," New York Review of Books, 21 March 1974,

24. For Frankenstein and nineteenth-century obstetrics, see, in particular, Alan Bewell, "'An Issue of Monstrous Desire': Frankenstein and Obstetrics," Yale Journal of Criticism 2.1 (1988): 105–28. Frankenstein is briefly discussed in Sanger, 190–91.

25. John Keown, "The First Statutory Prohibition of Abortion: Lord Ellenborough's Act 1803," in Abortion, Doctors and the Law: Some Aspects of the Legal Regulation of Abortion in England from 1803 to 1982 (Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1988), 3.

26. Mary (with Percy) Shelley, The Original Frankenstein, ed. Charles E. Robinson (New York: Vintage, 2008), 378; and see 243.

27. Shelley, 193.

28. On the history of abortion in the United States pre-Roe v. Wade, see Kristin Luker, Abortion and the Politics of Motherhood (Berkeley: Univ. of California Press, 1985), 11–126; and Leslie J. Regan, When Abortion Was a Crime: Women, Medicine, and the Law in the United States, 1867–1973 (Berkeley: Univ. of California Press, 1997).

29. Those cases were, respectively, Griswold v. Connecticut 381 U.S. 479 (1965), Loving v. Virginia 388 U.S. 1 (1967), Stanley v. Georgia 394 U.S. 557 (1969), Skinnerv. Oklahoma 316 U.S. 535 (1942), and Meyer v. Nebraska 262 U.S. 390 (1923). See Roe v. Wade, 410 U.S. 113 (1973), 153.

30. Roe v. Wade, 160.

31. See Judith Jarvis Thomson, "A Defense of Abortion," Philosophy & Public Affairs 1.1 (1971): 47–66. For a similar argument from a political theorist characterizing pregnancy as invasion, see Eileen McDonagh, Breaking the Abortion Deadlock: From Choice to Consent (Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press, 1996), 84–107.

32. See, in order, Catherine MacKinnon, "Reflections on Sex Equality Under Law," The Yale Law Journal 100.5 (1991): 1281–1328, esp. 1314; Donald H. Regan, "Rewriting Roe v. Wade," Michigan Law Review 77.7 (1979): 1569–1646, esp. 1569; Derek Parfit, Reasons and Persons (Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press, 1986), 322; John Hart Ely, "The Wages of Crying Wolf: A Comment on Roe v. Wade," Yale Law Journal 82.5 (1973): 920–49, esp. 926; and Jed Rubenfeld, "The Right of Privacy," Harvard Law Review 102.4 (1989): 737–807, esp. 794.

33. For the pro-choice allusion to slavery, see California Committee to Legalize Abortion, South Bay Chapter of the National Organization for Women, Zero Population Growth, Inc., Cheriel Moench Jensen, and Lynette Perks, "Amicus Curiae Brief in Support of Jane Roe," in Before Roe v. Wade, ed. Linda Greenhouse and Reva B. Siegel (2012), 176,

34. Dr. and Mrs. J. C. Wilke, Handbook on Abortion, in Before Roe v. Wade, 103. [End Page 248]

35. Adrienne Rich, Of Woman Born: Motherhood as Experience and Institution (New York: Norton, 1976), 64. See A. Robin Hoffman, "How to See the Horror: The Hostile Fetus in Rosemary's Baby and Alien," in The 'Evil Child' in Literature, Film and Popular Culture, ed. Karen J. Renner (New York: Routledge, 2013), 150–72.

36. Quoted in Lynn M. Paltrow, "Amicus Brief: Richard Thornburgh v. American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists," Women's Rights Law Reporter 9.1 (1986):16.

37. Jane Doe, "There Just Wasn't Room in Our Lives Now for Another Baby, The New York Times, 14 May 1976, A27.

38. Jane Doe, A27.

39. Jane Doe, A27. Jane Doe was later revealed to be Linda Bird Francke, who republished the testimonial in The Ambivalence of Abortion (New York: Random House, 1978).

40. Paul Freund, quoted in J. Braxton Craven, Jr., "Personhood: The Right to Be Let Alone," Duke Law Journal 25.4 (1976): 715. Freund was the first scholar to speak of a "right to personhood." Of course, the connection between "an inviolate personality" and a right to privacy extends back as far as Louis Brandeis in 1890 (Samuel D. Warren and Brandeis, Harvard Law Review 4.5 [1890]: 205). See also Rubenfeld, 737–807.

41. Laurence H. Tribe, American Constitutional Law (Mineola: Foundation Press, 1988), 1304.

42. See Rubenfeld, 782. As many feminist scholars have pointed out, privacy law was implicitly gendered male. See, for instance, MacKinnon, "Privacy v. Equality: Beyond Roe v. Wade (1983)," in Feminism Unmodified: Discourses on Life and Law (Cambridge: Harvard Univ. Press, 1987), 93–102.

43. Bowers v. Hardwick (1986), 478 U.S. 205 (J. Blackmun, dissenting), 206.

44. For a pro-life appraisal of Dick, see, for instance, Stephanie Pacheco, "'The Pre-Persons' Saw the Horrors of Abortion in 1974," Truth and Charity Forum, 31 March 2014, In literary criticism, Dick has been praised for his leftist politics, beginning with some of the most influential early Marxist appraisals. See Fredric Jameson, Archaeologies of the Future: The Desire Called Utopia and Other Science Fictions (New York: Verso, 2005), 349–63. See also Carl Freedman, "Towards a Theory of Paranoia: The Science Fiction of Philip K. Dick," Science Fiction Studies 11.1 (1984): 15–24; and most recently, Bill Brown, Other Things (Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press, 2015), 125–55. David Golumbia and Hayles provide accounts that enlist Dick on behalf of their favored poststructuralist theories—anti-Realism and posthumanism, respectively; see Golumbia, "Resisting 'The World': Philip K. Dick, Cultural Studies, and Metaphysical Realism," Science Fiction Studies 23.1 (1996): 83–102; and Hayles. Andrew Hoberek stands as a corrective to leftist and poststructuralist readings insofar as he argues that these accounts of labor occlude Dick's masculinism. See Hoberek, "The 'Work' of Science Fiction: Philip K. Dick and Occupational Masculinity in the Post-World War II United States," Modern Fiction Studies 43.2 (1997): 374–404. More recent scholarship has charted Dick's oscillations between humanism and postmodernism; see Christopher Palmer, Philip K. Dick: Exhilaration and Terror of the Postmodern (Liverpool: Liverpool Univ. Press, 2003); Jason Vest, The Postmodern Humanism of Philip K. Dick (Lanham: Scarecrow Press, 2009); and Lejla Kucukalic, Philip K. Dick: Canonical Writer of the Digital Age (New York: Routledge, 2009). There has also been a renewed interest in Dick's later work and his mystical epiphanies of February and March 1974, as betokened by the recent release of The Exegesis of Philip K. Dick, ed. Jonathan Lethem, Pamela Jackson, and Erik Davis (New York: Harcourt, 2011); [End Page 249] essays by Davis, Richard Doyle, and James Burton in The World According to Philip K. Dick, ed. Alexander Dunst (Palgrave Macmillan, 2015); and, most recently, Kyle Arnold, The Divine Madness of Philip K. Dick (Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press, 2016). Both his humanism and his Christian-inflected religion can be seen in his pro-life views.

45. Hayles, 5.

46. Dick, "Afterward" to "The Pre-Persons," in The Golden Man (New York: Berkeley, 1980), 337.

47. Dick, The Man Whose Teeth Were All Exactly Alike (Willimantic: Mark V. Ziesing, 1984), 185.

48. Dick, The Man, 188.

49. See Gregg Rickman, To The High Castle: Philip K. Dick: A Life, 1928–1962 (Long Beach: Fragments West, 1989), 359–61.

50. See Sutin, 298.

51. See Anne Dick, The Search for Philip K. Dick (San Francisco: Tachyon Publications, 2010), 63.

52. Dick, We Can Build You (New York Mariner Books, 2012), 14. Hereafter abbreviated WCBU and cited parenthetically by page number.

53. Quoted in Sutin, 108.

54. See Luker, 88–89, 121–22.

55. United States Constitution, amendment 15, §1, emphasis added.

56. Lincoln, 289.

57. Dick, Dr. Bloodmoney, Or How We Got Along After the Bomb (Boston: Mariner Books, 2012), 253, 12.

58. See Sara Dubow, Ourselves Unborn: A History of the Fetus in Modern America (Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press, 2010), 64–65.

59. See Mary Ziegler, After Roe: The Lost History of the Abortion Debate (Cambridge: Harvard Univ. Press, 2015), 74–76.

60. Dick, The Crack in Space (Boston: Mariner Books, 2012), 37.

61. See Sutin, 17–19.

62. Dick, Ubik (Boston: Mariner Books, 2012), 217.

63. Hayles, 191.

64. Dick, "The Android and the Human," in The Shifting Realities of Philip K. Dick: Selected Literary and Philosophical Writings, ed. Sutin (New York: Vintage, 1996), 205.

65. See Rubenfeld, 782.

66. On blushing and race, see Ruth Bernard Yeazell, Fictions of Modesty: Women and Courtship in the English Novel (Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press, 1991), 72.

67. Michael Bérubé, "Disability, Democracy, and the New Genetics," in The Disability Studies Reader, ed. Leonard J. Davis (New York: Routledge, 2017), 90.

68. For pro-life activists who hold this view, see Luker, Abortion and the Politics of Motherhood, 207–9. As Weingarten points out, the antiabortion stance was historically connected to eugenics, as white women of the '20s and '30s were encouraged to bear more children. See Weingarten, 66–95. More recently, disability studies activist Ruth Hubbard compares abortion of the disabled to eugenics, although she argues that a woman should still have a right to choose. See Hubbard, "Abortion and Disability: Who Should and Should Not Inhabit the World?", in The Disability Studies Reader, 74–87.

69. Simon Gikandi, Slavery and the Culture of Taste (Princeton: Princeton Univ. Press, 2011), 237–38.

70. American Heritage Dictionary, s.v. "Rachel," [End Page 250]

71. Sutin, 209; see also 6–8, 208–34.

72. See Sutin, 208–60.

73. Dick, "The Exegesis" (unpublished manuscript), 25 October 1980, 5. Original uncorrected text available at, folder 1, 92.

74. Vonnegut, "The Big Space Fuck," 267.

75. Ellison, "Croatoan," 18. For Vonnegut's pro-choice stance, see Vonnegut, interview with William Rodney Allen and Paul Smith, "An Interview with Kurt Vonnegut," in Conversations with Kurt Vonnegut (Jackson: Univ. Press of Mississippi, 1988), 279.

76. Quoted in Julie Phillips, James Tiptree, Jr.: The Double Life of Alice B. Sheldon (New York: St. Martin's Press, 2015), 438.

77. Tiptree, Jr., 79.

78. Tiptree, Jr., 79.

79. MacKinnon, "Reflections," 1314. See also Ernest Larsen, "The Fetal Monster," in Fetal Subjects, Feminist Positions, 236–51, which discusses "Bloodchild" and several popular films, but does not explore the legal context.

80. See Gerry Canavan, Octavia E. Butler (Urbana: Univ. of Illinois Press, 2016), 90.

81. See Butler, Seed To Harvest (New York: Open Road, 2012), 541–42.

82. In Locus Magazine, polls conducted between 1971 and 1977 showed that only 17–20% of science fiction readers were female, though that percentage would grow with the rise of feminist sci-fi in the '70s and '80s. See Brian M. Stableford, The Sociology of Science Fiction (Wilbraham: Borgo Press, 1987), 65–66.

83. Butler, interview by Randall Kenan, Callaloo 14.2 (1991): 498.

84. Previous criticism about "Bloodchild" attempts to reconcile the stark narrative of domination with Butler's comments in the afterword that it is not "about slavery," that it is a "love story" (B, 30). For instance, Amanda Thibodeau focuses on the "love story" aspect, reading it as a narrative of queer intimacy, while Alys Eve Weinbaum thinks of it as illustrating the continuities between slavery and neoliberal capitalism. Kristen Lillvis argues that Gan inherits a tradition of black motherhood as described by Hortense Spillers in which motherly love can destroy oppressive family hierarchies. My own suggestion is that thinking about it as an engagement with radical feminism, which viewed consent as impossible under patriarchy, explains how the story could be not about slavery, a "love story" and a story about domination all at once. See Thibodeau, "Alien Bodies and a Queer Future: Sexual Revision in Octavia Butler's 'Bloodchild' and James Tiptree, Jr.'s 'With Delicate Mad Hands,'" Science Fiction Studies 39.2 (2012): 262–82; Weinbaum, "The Afterlife of Slavery and the Problem of Reproductive Freedom," Social Text 31.2 115 (2013): 49–68; and Lillvis, "Mama's Baby, Papa's Slavery? The Problem and Promise of Mothering in Octavia E. Butler's 'Bloodchild,'" MELUS 39.4 (2014): 1–16.

85. For this history, see Dorothy Roberts, Killing the Black Body: Race, Reproduction and the Meaning of Liberty (New York: Pantheon Books, 1997). See also, on Butler, Aimee Armande Wilson, Conceived in Modernism: The Aesthetics and Politics of Birth Control (New York: Bloomsbury, 2016), 119–36.

86. For Frankenstein and female authorship, see Sandra Gilbert and Susan Gubar, Madwoman in the Attic: The Woman Writer and the Nineteenth Century Imagination (New Haven: Yale Univ. Press, 2000), 213–47.

87. Canavan, 9.

88. Canavan, 118.

89. On the importance of California as a trailblazing state, see Luker, 66–125. [End Page 251]

90. Annalee Newitz recognizes Shusterman as extending "The Pre-Persons." See Newitz, "What does science fiction tell us about the future of reproductive rights?" io9, 22 February 2012,

91. On the first Alien film and abortion, see Hoffman, 150–72. On Star Trek and abortion, see Robin Roberts, Sexual Generations: Star Trek, the Next Generation and Gender (Urbana: Univ. of Illinois Press, 1999), 144–64.

92. Atwood, MaddAddam (New York: Doubleday, 2013), 1; see 1–3.

93. Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pa. v. Casey 505 U.S. 833 (1992), 861.

94. Sandra Day O'Connor noted this possibility in an earlier opinion: "As medical science becomes better able to provide for the separate existence of the fetus, the point of viability is moved further back toward conception" (Akron v. Akron Center for Reproductive Health, Inc., 462 U.S. 416 [1983] [O'Connor, dissenting], 459).

95. Casey, 852.

96. This connection has been made before. See Karen Newman, Fetal Positions: Individualism, Science, Visuality (Stanford Univ. Press, 1996), 10–17; and Zoe Sofia, "Exterminating Fetuses: Abortion, Disarmament and the Sexo-Semiotics of Extraterrestrialism," diacritics 14.2 (1984): 47–59.

97. Le Guin, 68, 76.

98. Le Guin, 73.

99. Patricia Lockwood, Priestdaddy: A Memoir (New York: Riverhead Books, 2017), 240.

100. Drucilla Cornell, "Dismembered Selves and Wandering Wombs," in Left Legalism/Left Critique, ed. Wendy Brown and Janet Halley (Durham: Duke Univ. Press, 2002), 348.

101. Cornell, 346.

102. Johnson, 34. [End Page 252]

Additional Information

Print ISSN
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
Back To Top

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. Without cookies your experience may not be seamless.