A recent Wired article fascinated me. It began with the line, “One day, human wombs will no longer be necessary for bearing children.” It continued, highlighting the scientific advances that make it quite probable that there will be artificial wombs in factories within the foreseeable future.
Of course, this is a fascinating topic on its own, filled with all sorts of moral issues to consider. But the authors had a larger question they wanted to tackle; namely, how do artificial wombs impact current pro-abortion arguments. I found their approach interesting and revealing.
The core of their argument is that though there are net positives to ectogenesis (the formal name for bearing children through artificial wombs), one of the key concerns is that it removes a crucial argument for abortion. Historically, it has been argued that viability is a factor in determining the moral status of abortion. Ectogenesis makes it so that all fetuses are viable.
The issue of viability has always been a problem in pro-abortion arguments, for viability has been expanding into the earliest weeks of pregnancy due to advances in medical care. And ethically it has always been questionable to determine the morality of an action on such an unstable and moving basis. The introduction of a technology like ectogenesis promises to cause even more difficulty.
If one can safely transfer the child from the mother to the artificial womb, then viability is no longer a consideration, and one of the chief strands of the pro-abortion argument has been severed. The authors recognize this saying, “If abortion jurisprudence continues using fetal viability as its central criterion for whether abortion should be allowed, abortion in the ectogenesis era risks becoming less morally and socially acceptable than it is today.”
The authors suggest that future jurisprudence for the pro-abortion side needs to double down on two arguments. First, it needs to recommit to the woman’s right to bodily autonomy. She has the right to choose what invasive procedures are done to her body. Accordingly, even if she is able to save the life of the fetus by transferring it to an artificial womb, she need not do so.
Second, the authors suggest that the social and psychological status of the mother must be reconfirmed in future legal arguments. Even if she is physically able to transfer the child, she may be deeply damaged if she is forced to, for “she might still feel a sense of obligation toward the child or guilt toward herself, for not enshrining the self-sacrificing qualities often idealized and associated with motherhood. Living with these emotions could cause the biological mother psychological harm, and she might also be at risk of encountering related social stigma.” The authors conclude that “if social pressures and stigma are enough that a woman who uses ectogenesis would suffer, the desire of such a woman not to become a mother deserves to be respected, especially in the early stages of a fetus’s development.”
Ectogenesis provides many moral quandaries that Christians will have to deal with sooner than perhaps we might think. This new technology also has the effect of clarifying the current debate.
One thing clarified concerns the importance of viability in the pro-abortion argument. The ease by which the authors move past viability suggests that viability is not a fundamental consideration in the pro-abortion movement.
The second clarification is that the only real argument for pro-abortion is the autonomy of the woman to do what she wants with her body. Now, the authors do suggest another reason for remaining pro-abortion. And though this reason also has to do with the will of the woman, it has to do with the social and psychological effects of having a child.
But this argument goes farther than the authors want it to go. What if a father argues that he does not want a child born, because (using a modified form of the words used by the authors) “[he] might still feel a sense of obligation toward the child or guilt toward [himself], for not enshrining the self-sacrificing qualities often idealized and associated with [fatherhood]. Living with these emotions could cause the biological [father] psychological harm, and [he] might also be at risk of encountering related social stigma”?
Logically, it seems that the authors would support abortion in this case. But what if the mother does not want to abort the child? Should the psychological and social situation of the father matter? If yes, then the woman would lose autonomy of her body. If no, then the social and psychological argument fails.
Though I have not spoken to the authors, I am convinced they would say that forcing the woman to have an abortion because of the social/psychological state of the biological father would be unethical. And this is because the real argument is not about social/psychological/viable issues, it is about female autonomy.
This is the simple, unadorned pro-abortion argument: Women should have the right to do whatever they want with their own body, even if that means taking the life of the fetus. The pro-abortion side rarely makes this as clear as it really is, but they should.
Once we see this argument for what it is, we see that it is truly a fundamentally religious question. Do we have absolute autonomy over our own bodies?