Is artificial-womb technology a tool for women’s liberation?


A medical illustration of a 9 week old human foetus. PHOTO/Stocktrek/Getty

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.

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