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  • Jess Reed

“Mother Nature Should've Gone to Planned Parenthood: Frankenstein in Post-Dobbs America”

Mary Shelley was 18 years old when she first wrote the incredibly influential and arguably first science fiction novel, Frankenstein. Vacationing with her husband, Percy Shelley, and their mutual friends Lord Byron and John William Polidori, Mary Shelley recalls that the iconic creature came to her in a dream, and the novel itself was finished within only a few months. Riddled with the themes of religion, sex, death, and birth, modern literary analysts propose that the novel itself was a product of Shelley’s own complex relationship with motherhood. Her mother, famous feminist author Mary Wollstonecraft, died giving birth to Shelley, and Shelley herself experienced the death of two of her children, as well as complications in childbirth before and after writing Frankenstein. For Mary, birth and death were not antonyms.

And they aren’t for modern women, either.

Abortion is often debated as a one-pronged issue; either it’s the murder of an innocent baby, or the termination of a pregnancy as an exercise of bodily autonomy. In reality, the issue is much more nuanced.

As most scientists will tell you, the banning of abortions only makes pregnancy all the more dangerous. Maternal mortality rates in states with banned or heavily restricted abortion access are expected to increase, not only because pregnant people may turn to more dangerous, diy-forms of termination, but also because sexual education and prenatal care in general becomes worse. Pregnant people whose lives are threatened by their pregnancies may be forced to battle it out in court for the ability to terminate, and that requires money, time, and not a small amount of luck.

Which is why the right to an abortion is not only about the principle of bodily autonomy, but bodily safety. While pro-life supporters like to frame reproduction as the miracle of life, it can often be medical adversity brought on by rape and the reason behind another abandoned, abused, or impoverished child.

This is a lesson that Victor Frankenstein knows all too well.

After discovering the creature alive in his lab, Frankenstein abandons the experiment altogether in horror. The creature is left to fend for itself for years in the wilderness, slowly learning how to read, speak, walk, eat. How to be angry. How to take revenge. How to hurt.

And when he hurts, it is often families, pregnant women, or children that fall victim. Elizabeth, Victor’s adopted sister/wife (don’t you love the Romantics?), is strangled on her wedding bed. Justine, Frankenstein’s servant and a mother-figure to his younger brother, William, hangs for his murder after being framed by the creature. Reproduction precedes death.

The creature before killing Elizabeth, from: Frankenstein - review | Theatre | The Guardian

Some will argue that the creature’s violence is not inherent to his existence, that it is Victor’s fault for abandoning him that makes his life so wretched. But Victor was never going to be a good father; the novel condemns him for, like our American politicians do, playing God over reproduction. His redemption arc is not becoming a better father to the creature, but acknowledging that he should never have created him at all, and essentially aborting the creature’s bride before she can come to life in order to stop the two from reproducing.

The same response applies to those who urge pregnant people who are considering abortion to instead carry their fetuses to term and place them up for adoption. Ignoring the myriad of medical and emotional reasons that carrying a pregnancy to term can be dangerous, pretending that the U.S. foster care system is a safe, reliable place for children is laughable. A ten-year-old girl is not allowed to legally adopt a child in the United States because of her obvious inability to care for a child as a mother must; but the same girl may be forced to birth one.

In her 1831 introduction to Frankenstein, Shelley addresses the questions “so very frequently asked me. ‘How I, then a young girl, came to think of and to dilate upon so very hideous an idea?’” It is in her phrasing of this question that we get our answer: who else could understand the body horror of reproduction better than a young girl, screaming as her hideous progeny births wretchedly into the world?


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