A new breakthrough in medical technology could enable prematurely born infants to survive outside of the womb, greatly improving their chances of survival and reducing risks for mothers unable to reach full term. Naturally, some feminists are upset by the prospects it offers and have tied its development to the end of abortion rights.
The technology, which was unveiled in April, allowed for eight premature lambs to spend four weeks of development in an artificial womb called the Biobag. The lambs survived and have been developing normally.
One would think that such a lifesaving technology, which can potentially save the lives of the 30,000 prematurely born babies each year, would be hailed as a net positive. Not so, argue feminists at Gizmodo who claim that the medical advancement “could also complicate—and even jeopardize—the right to an abortion.”
Speaking to Gizmodo, Harvard Law School bioethicist Glenn Cohen said that the constitutional treatment of abortion was pegged to the viability of a fetus’ survival. “This has the potential to really disrupt things, first by asking the question of whether a fetus could be considered ‘viable’ at the time of abortion if you could place it in an artificial womb.”
“It could wind up being that you only have the right to an abortion up until you can put [a fetus] in the artificial womb,” Cohen told Gizmodo. “It’s terrifying.”
Gizmodo’s Kristen V. Brown takes issue with the possibilities offered by the technology, as a fetus can now be transplanted into an artificial womb instead of being aborted. The technology, if it works on humans, could improve the chances of survival for countless prematurely born infants and drastically reduce the risks to mothers with preexisting medical conditions that make it dangerous for them to give birth. In other words, the artificial womb will make medically necessary late term abortions unnecessary.
“Developing technology also tests the rhetoric surrounding the right to choose,” wrote Brown. “A woman’s right to control her own body is a common legal and ethical argument made in favor of abortion. Under that logic, though, the law could simply compel a woman to put her fetus into an external womb, giving her back control of her own body but still forcing her into parenthood.”
Instead, it’s now a question of whether its existence would deprive a woman of her rights to control her body. In reality, most late-term abortions happen due to medical reasons.
The scientists behind the artificial womb intend to create a version that will work for premature babies born as early as 23 weeks, and hope to test it on human babies within the next five years.
Ian Miles Cheong is a journalist and outspoken media critic. You can reach him through social media at @stillgray on Twitter.