Abstract

PRECIS:

The growth of fetal personhood laws has led to an increase in carceral responses to the loss of a fetus. This carceral response has had devastating racial effects. This essay situates the carceral management of reproduction within a theological mode of production and reproduction, examining how fetal personhood is culturally produced and reproduced within the context of a theology of Christian redemption and its supersessionist sense of peoplehood. I begin by situating fetal personhood within a larger discussion of Christian peoplehood and chosenness, focusing on peoplehood's relationship to political theological crises of legitimacy. In so doing, I recast political theology in light of such Black scholars as Cedric Robinson and Sylvia Wynter, showing how theological resolutions of the crises of legitimacy, meaning, and value depend on the imposition of order—ordering existence and epistemology—against the threat that Black flesh poses to the reproduction of Christian racial distinctiveness and redemption. Second, I consider how white governance supersedes Christian peoplehood as the redemptive theologic of racial modernity that legitimates claims of fetal personhood, by showing how the implicitly white conception of the human that is assumed by fetal personhood arguments recapitulates a notion of theological descent. Theological descent necessitates the proper reproduction of order through racial enforcement in order to secure human redemption. Finally, I draw on the insights of my analysis to perform a political theological reading of anti-abortion advertisements and billboards specifically figuring Black children as "an endangered species," showing how these ads make the fetus and not Black lives the victim of this endangerment. I argue that these are personhood arguments, and, as such, they deploy a Christian redemptive imagination to conjure and capture the living image of Black children, who are made into surrogates for the anti-abortion movements' redemptive politics. As such, they attribute blameworthiness to Black wombs and use systemic racism to produce a blameless fetus. Racism becomes a way of re-blaming Black people for racism. In thinking of race and reproduction together in an examination of the cultural production of fetal personhood, I show how the larger political theological attempt to impose order and governance on Black flesh serves to resolve crises of existential and epistemological meaning and value. The legitimation of carceral enforcement in response to abortion and Black reproduction is thus a means of preserving an anti-Black political theology. This theological redemptive order, in turn, is set over and against the disorder that Black flesh and sexuality represent.

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Additional Information

ISSN
2162-3937
Print ISSN
0022-0558
Pages
pp. 518-543
Launched on MUSE
2021-02-16
Open Access
No
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