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Themes of Reproductive Justice In The Second Season Of Star Trek Voyager

Posted in Editorials on March 9th, 2015
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Star Trek Voyager is a very feminist show. A lot of television in the 90′s took feminism for granted, and Voyager is no exception.
I think in part this stems from having so many great women characters.

The second season of Voyager is considered by many fans to be the weakest, and I’m not sure if I agree. But even if that’s true, I did notice that there was a strong theme of Reproductive Justice underscoring a few of the episodes.

It starts with Elogium. In this episode, the ship flies into the mating ground of some giant space slugs and this throws Kes into heat, many years before she expected to have to decide whether or not to have a child. Trekkie Feminist has a great review of the episode, but what stood out to me were that:

  • Janeway stated plainly that she will not institute a blanket ban on “fraternization.” If the crew wants to hook up, that’s their business
  • Janeway acknowledges that some members of her crew may have children. But again she’s not going to encourage this or discourage it. She doesn’t think this is any of her business.
  • Kes considers whether or not to have a child and concludes that just because she can, doesn’t mean that she should.

At the end of the episode we find out that Ensign Wildman is pregnant. She and her husband were trying to conceive before Voyager left the Alpha Quadrant and she has just confirmed it now. They’ve been lost in space for months, but the show glosses over this. Perhaps it’s because Wildman’s husband is Ktarian and that species has a much longer gestation period. Or maybe Ktarian sperm can live a lot longer than human sperm in fallopian tubes waiting for the right egg.

When Wildman comes to tell Captain Janeway, the tone is serious:

WILDMAN: I know this isn’t the best place to have a baby, but it’s all I have left of my husband.
JANEWAY: Well, congratulations, Ensign.

At first I wondered why they didn’t seem happier about it. But their serious tone is fitting. Being lost in a hostile area of space 70 light years away from family and a support network is not the best place to have a baby. Gushing and squeeing would not have been appropriate. The show takes this very seriously. Wildman’s baby is wanted and yet arriving under less than ideal circumstances.

In the episode Deadlock, Wildman gives birth, and there is a complication:

EMH: Push!
KES: Don’t forget to breathe, Samantha. Deep regular breaths. That’s it.
EMH: Cervical dilation is at ten point two centimeters. Prostaglandin levels are normal. Push, Ensign.
WILDMAN: You push, damn it! I’m sick of pushing!
EMH: I know you’re fatigued. Try to focus on your breathing. Remember the exercises we did. When you feel a contraction, bear down.
WILDMAN: Oh! Oh, what was that?
EMH: What’s wrong?
WILDMAN: A pain in my abdomen. It’s different. Sharp. Oh, God!
EMH: The baby has shifted position, and its exo-cranial ridges have lodged in the uterine wall. This is a rare complication, but it’s been known to happen in human Ktarian pregnancies.
KES: Can we reposition the baby?
EMH: No. Its spinal column is too fragile. I don’t want to risk nerve damage. If we don’t deliver the baby now, its ridges could perforate the uterus and cause internal bleeding. Kes, prepare for a foetal transport.
EMH: I’ve locked onto the baby’s coordinates. We’re ready to begin. Initiating umbilical separation. Energizing.
EMH: Congratulations, Ensign. It’s a girl.
WILDMAN: Is she all right?
EMH: The transport caused a slight hemocythemic imbalance, but we’ll stabilise her cell membranes with osmotic pressure therapy.

Although there was a risk to the baby (she born with something like decompression sickness) the Doctor and Kes did not think twice about saving Wildman’s life. She was in danger of dying and they saved her. Immediately. Without question.

When I was a teenager I probably watched this episode at least three or four times, and I never noticed this. But now I know that we live in a climate where for many, saving a pregnant woman’s life at any risk to the fetus is taboo. Governments in places like Ireland and El Salvador force women to die on the table for their babies. Religion lauds these tragedies as beatific. Those who dissent are condemned. As recently as 2011, the United States was considering a bill that would free hospitals from any liability if their religious refusal to treat a pregnant woman resulted in her death. But on Voyager, this was never even considered to be an option. Not for a millisecond.

Finally there is the matter of Seska’s assault on Chakotay. She tells him that while he was being held hostage by the Kazon, she took a sample of his DNA while he was unconscious and impregnated herself with it. When the baby is born she sends a message saying that she and the baby are in danger. This is clearly a trap. Janeway and Chakotay know this. Janeway tells Chakotay that it is his decision whether or not they decide to attempt a rescue. In his review of this episode, Jammer says,

If you guessed that Chakotay decides to go after his son, you win today’s prize. Still, despite the tough-to-judge arguments early in the show regarding whether it would be wise to indulge in such an emotional response over a child that was born under such manipulated circumstances, the bottom line is that it is downright foolhardy for Janeway to divert the course of the Voyager into what is the heart of Kazon territory and what may very likely be Seska’s latest snare attempt. Just how many times has Seska duped the Voyager crew in the past?

But this is only true if you consider that Janeway’s only objective is military success. It’s not. She frequently places the heath and welfare of her crew, and the existence of other civilizations above their goal of getting home or winning battles. Even though she’s his superior officer, Janeway does not want to stop Chakotay from rescuing his son and having his chance at fatherhood – even though it might put them all at risk. When you include Chakotay’s rights as a parent her calculus makes more sense.

It’s clear that for Captain Janeway, the reproductive rights of her crew are a priority. One more reason why Star Trek is a utopian vision of the future.

I just wrote a thousand words about reproductive justice in the context of a television season that aired twenty years ago. But I’m also doing something for the cause of reproductive justice today. For the third year, I’m participating in the National Network of Abortion Funds Bowl-a-thon. Abortion funds are local, grassroots groups that work tirelessly to help low-income and disadvantaged people who want an abortion and do not have enough money to pay for it. I’m bowling because I believe that everyone should have access to the abortions they need, regardless of how much money they have. Click to follow the link and find out more. Please donate if you can.