February 27, 2020

The End of Pregnancy

“While some women experience pregnancy and childbirth as joyful, natural and fulfilling, others find themselves recoiling in horror at the physical demands of carrying and sustaining a child in their womb, and even more so at the potential brutality of giving birth. Some might view the blood, sweat and tears as a necessary and unavoidable part of life. Others, such as the radical feminist Shulamith Firestone, writing in her book The Dialectic of Sex (1970), assume a less forgiving view of the process as ‘barbaric’ or akin to ‘shitting a pumpkin’. Most, like myself, oscillate between the two positions, or else sit somewhere in between.

Whatever one’s position on the matter of the ‘naturalness’ of pregnancy, it can’t be denied that the development of artificial-womb technology (known as ectogenesis) would radically change the debate. First, there are the therapeutic benefits it promises: women prone to risky pregnancies could transfer the foetus to an artificial womb, thereby allowing foetal development to continue at little cost to their own physical health; likewise, foetuses at risk of premature birth could be transferred to artificial wombs to complete their development as required. The blood, sweat and tears, it seems, might not be so intrinsic to the process after all.

Second, the technology could have important social benefits for women. For Firestone, artificial wombs would eliminate a crucial condition that currently ensures women’s oppression by neutralising the heavily gendered process of reproduction. Though there exist indisputable biological differences between the sexes, she argued that this difference becomes oppressive in the unfair division of reproductive labour and its naturalisation through the ideal of the nuclear family. But if foetuses were to develop in artificial wombs, women would finally be free to pursue their interests and desires outside of their reproductive duties.”

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