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UK Ethicist Says Women Would Be Better Off if Babies Grew in Artificial Wombs

True liberation or misogynist fantasy?

An ethicist in the UK reckons women will never truly be equal with men until babies can be gestated in artificial wombs.

Dr. Anna Smajdor, writing in the Cambridge Quarterly of Healthcare Ethics, tells us that pregnancy causes a “natural inequality” between the sexes. Men get the perks of reproduction but women bear all the “burdens and risks.”

“Pregnancy is a condition that causes pain and suffering, and that affects only women,” she writes. Smajdor is Lecturer in Ethics at the School of Medicine, Health Policy and Practice in the University of East Anglia.
So, in order to be equal to men, a woman must become more like a man? His body is the norm? Hers is the handicap? I find this horrifying.

It sounds like a Brave New World or maybe the dystopian novel,  The Handmaid’s Tale, in which slave women gestate so the ruling class women don’t have to be bothered with it.

But it’s not a particularly new idea if you think about.

Feminists have made this point before, in other ways. The fight for equal rights in the US had lots to do with showing how women could do what men can do. And while that was so important–give us the vote, hello?!– the question of how to fit reproduction/motherhood into this paradigm was always, to say the least, an awkward one. Maybe techo-wombs would have been a bigger part of earlier feminist agendas had the idea seemed even remotely possible.

Not that we’re in anywhere near close to being able to accomplish ectogenesis now but I suppose given recent advances in reproductive technologies, it seems more possible than it did in the time of, say, Simone de Beauvoir, who famously said, “woman is womb.” (And didn’t necessarily mean it as a compliment.)

I don’t think humans will ever be able to grow in artificial wombs. A mathematician recently explained in his TED talk on gestation: “The magic of the mechanisms inside each genetic structure saying exactly where that nerve cell should go— the complexity of these, the mathematical models of how these things are indeed done are beyond human comprehension. Even though I’m a mathematician, I look at this with a marvel of how did these instruction sets not make mistakes as they build what is us. It’s a mystery, its magic, its divinity.”  (And to think this process is our ‘burden’?!)

But here’s the thing:

The conversation about the “burden” of child-bearing cannot be reduced to biology. It’s about things like access to healthcare and clean water and real food; it’s about girls not being raped and getting fistula as a consequence; it’s about maternity and paternity care benefits, affordable childcare… An artificial womb is not going to save a mother in Afghanistan from her “burden.”

It’s also bizarre to me that we’re led to this place of duking it out over what’s fair biologically. Men die before women. Do we need to make that fair too? Shoot women at 80 to even it out?

Smajdor worries that women are “baby carriers who must subjugate their other interests to the well-being of their children,” but is an artificial womb going to change that?? Once you get your baby from the factory, what are you going to do then? That’s where the real “subjugate their interests” part kicks in. And once again we come back to social/political NOT biological issues.

Though this is a lofty philosophical question, a dumb but kind of genius Bruce Willis quote comes to mind, “On the one hand, we’ll never experience childbirth. On the other hand, we can open all our own jars.”

There are differences between men and women. We need to make sure that those differences are not reason for exploitation of one sex by the other, not attempt to just make them go away!

What do you think?

Would women really be better off if machines had all the babies?

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