Fetal Positions: Fetal Visualization, Public Art, and Abortion Politics

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Beck Wise


The interrelation of scientific and aesthetic visual norms employed in anatomic sculptures opens novel and effective persuasive registers in debates around bodily autonomy. Using Damien Hirst’s installation The Miraculous Journey as a case study, this study posits that these visual representations of reproduction signify beyond the body, demonstrating the ways that pregnancy and childbirth embody political, national, and cultural possibilities. Tracing the sculptures’ adoption as evidence by anti-abortion activists in United States debates over abortion care, this article argues that the liminal disciplinary site of the sculptures makes them uniquely effective in humanizing the fetus. While there is a growing body of work examining the rhetorical function of visualizing technologies in medical practice, there is little work on the function of such images in public culture. This article responds to calls from rhetoricians of STEMM for further examination of science’s visual rhetoric, as well as greater engagement with non-expert rhetorics of science.

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Beck Wise, University of New England

Lecturer in Writing