Those of science creating a working artificial womb has many believing it will free women from the constraints of a male-dominated society. Yes and no.
A core objective of radical feminists is to emancipate women from the social and physical disadvantages of pregnancy. Sounds great to me. Women face a stalling career from time spent outside the workforce (hello wage gap), the likelihood of significant health problems during pregnancy, and trauma or even death during childbirth – and that’s all before the screeching goblin is born.
Pregnancy was considered as a private, biological event up until the 1960s when the Pill was introduced. Debates emerged between conservatives and feminists, who roared “the personal is political”, referencing the politicisation of women’s reproductive decisions. Oral contraception brought a scientific reality to feminist ideas of women’s bodily autonomy – now artificial wombs will breathe life into a radical dimension of feminist thought.
In April, news emerged from the scientific journal Nature Communications that physicians in Philadelphia have developed an artificial womb capable of carrying prematurely born lambs for a further four weeks of gestation. It’s entirely possible that this technology could be refined for human premature babies, even to carry an embryo from fertilisation to ‘birth’. It’s a radical feminist future. Imagine if women weren’t forced to pause their careers or suffer life-changing medical complications. This would open a whole new playing field for women’s liberation from the labour of pregnancy, and the actual labour of childbirth – right? No. Oh fuck, no it will not. This new technology would only serve to further entrench socio-economic divides: a slap in the face to radical feminist theory.
This technology is going to be patented (read: expensive). The women who would benefit most from continuing to stay in the workforce to maintain their income would be the ones least likely to afford it, not to mention the pricing-out of women and trans people experiencing reproductive health complications who could use such technology to successfully have a child.
There are massive legal ramifications. What if the foetus dies “in utero”? Would medical practitioners be liable? Sued? Charged with murder? Conversations would extend from how women should govern their bodies to how women should govern products of their bodies (the foetus in the artificial womb), too.
Melania Trump apparently was only allowed to have her son Barron if she promised Donald to “get her body back” – future women in her position wouldn’t need to “lose” their bodies in the first place. The artificial womb would become a convenience measure for the wealthy.
There are also massive legal ramifications. What if the foetus dies “in utero”? Would the medical practitioners be liable? Would they be sued? Charged with murder? Navigating the legal challenges associated when things go wrong would be traumatic for all parties involved.
Women’s bodies and their natural processes are already scrutinised and sanitised for being unnatural; we can only imagine the furore around taking a biological phenomenon and thrusting it into the world of science-fiction-meets-reality. Conversations would extend from how women should govern their bodies to how women should govern products of their bodies (the foetus in the artificial womb), too.
Freeing women from the disadvantages of pregnancy is a fundamentally useful idea in understanding how women are disprivileged by their reproductive role; however, artificial wombs won’t be the catalyst for reproductive equality between genders. It would be too expensive and exclusive, legally risky and expose women to more hurtful conversations about the “correct” ways for our body to exist.
Perhaps we should go the way of the seahorses – let the males give birth every once in a while.