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Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Can technology end abortion?

Over the last few years, numerous scientific breakthroughs have shown that adult cells can be made to behave like embryonic stem cells. These "induced pluripotent stem cells" have great promise. Not only are they more ethical than embryonic stem cells, but since they can be derived from the same patient who needs treatment, they don't pose the rejection problems that embryonic stem cells do. Eventually, scientists hope that this technology will result in the ability to create tailor-made organs for people with severe medical needs. There's still a lot of work to be done, but pro-life advocates have a reasonable hope that embryonic stem cells will simply become obsolete. Could the same thing happen with abortion?

Technology has already benefited unborn children in significant ways. Ultrasounds have debunked the "ball of cells" myth, changed mother's minds about abortion, and converted many people from pro-choice to pro-life. Advances in prenatal care have improved the health of mothers and babies. And just yesterday, Heather wrote about a new medical protocol that can save certain older fetuses from abortions that have already begun. But I'm talking about something bigger: the technology to safely transplant an "unwanted" unborn child into an artificial womb.

Unfortunately, as soon as the thought came to me, I realized how much abortion advocates would fight to keep it from happening.

At first glance, artificial wombs seem like the perfect solution. The baby lives and the mother doesn't have to share her body-- sounds great! But while bodily integrity is a nice rhetorical point for abortion advocates, the real objective of abortion is not to terminate a pregnancy, but to kill a baby. Mothers with pregnancy complications would take advantage of the artificial womb, but they make up a very small fraction of abortions. For most abortion-minded women, the pregnancy itself isn't the problem-- it's the newborn who results. They cite financial constraints, education, career, and poor relationships.

That means that the majority of mothers would not want to raise the babies gestated in artificial wombs. The babies would instead be put up for adoption. If artificial wombs became available, some mothers would still prefer abortion. In that situation, abortion advocates will ditch the bodily integrity argument, and instead argue that for a woman to know that her baby is out there, being raised by someone else, is a psychological burden that outweighs the baby's right to life. (While I don't dispute that adoption is an emotional minefield, that alone cannot justify killing a human being. But any argument with the full support of Planned Parenthood and NARAL is bound to get some traction, no matter how wrong it is.)

Another issue arises when we think about how the technology would develop. In the early stages of experimentation, it will not be safe for the babies. The only (possibly) ethical approach would be to work with babies who are already doomed to die-- that is, babies who are scheduled to be aborted. But what abortionist will refer mothers to a study that could put him out of business?

While artificial wombs sound cool, I have to conclude they will do little to save the lives of unborn children. Please prove me wrong in the comments section.

14 comments:

M said...

This is a very thought-provoking post. Well done.

I believe there are a decent amount of abortion rights advocates who are "personally pro-life" but feel compelled by the bodily integrity argument. Do you think that's true? How do you think "personally pro-life" people would react to such technology? It seems to me that if the pro-choice movement had to revert from the bodily integrity argument to something more nebulous, like psychological stress, it would lose a lot of traction.

Also, I imagine such technology would first be tested on animals and then for mothers who would otherwise have gotten surrogates. Maybe.

A Duck said...

the real objective of abortion is not to terminate a pregnancy, but to kill a baby.

Please try to use less emotionally charged verbiage. This makes it sound as if abortion advocates (or mothers who want abortions) have some sort of vindictive vendetta against the child, which is not true. I think what you're saying is that the point of abortion is to avoid parenthood or, more specifically, escape the guilt and burden of having a child out there who you either cannot or did not care for. I realize that to some people the difference is moot, but the distinction for the would-be-mother is actually a defensive mentality rather than an offensive one.

In that situation, abortion advocates will ditch the bodily integrity argument, and instead argue that for a woman to know that her baby is out there, being raised by someone else, is a psychological burden that outweighs the baby's right to life. (While I don't dispute that adoption is an emotional minefield, that alone cannot justify killing a human being. But any argument with the full support of Planned Parenthood and NARAL is bound to get some traction, no matter how wrong it is.)

I can see where pro-life would worry about this possibility because the argument valuing the fetus's life seemed like an obvious one and that hasn't stopped abortions. However, the important transition you make when artificial wombs are a viable, reliable option is that the bodily integrity argument becomes much weaker, if not entirely obsolete. The reason pro-choice argument works as well as it does is because it hinges on the concept of defending a basic human right, making abortion sound like an ugly but necessary evil. Once saving the fetus no longer infringes on that human right any more than abortion does, there is little justification for abortion.

If you want to postulate on what abortion advocates will use to argue against artificial wombs, I would suspect that they'll try and re-create the bodily integrity argument rather than switch to psychological stress, which is very weak. My guess is that they'd argue that the fetus is part of the woman's body and therefore she has exclusive rights to deciding its fate.

Nulono said...

I think artificial wombs would first be tested on animals (there has already been at least one such test), and then on babies doomed to die, but not from abortion (that is, when there are pregnancy complications).

I think that the argument is going to be that the artificial wombs would be too expensive, thus it would be "discriminating against poor women" and would be "too much money to spend just to add one more person too the population". After all, at first it wouldn't be the kind of money you'd like to spend on a "potential human".

A Duck, I have to disagree. The goal of an abortion is to kill the unborn child. If the child survives, that abortion is "failed".

A Duck said...

A Duck, I have to disagree. The goal of an abortion is to kill the unborn child. If the child survives, that abortion is "failed".

That's because that's what the term "abortion" defines, but that's not what I was talking about. I was discussing the motive of abortion advocates, namely the pregnant women who want abortions. The point is evading parenthood whether you are looking after the child or not.

I think that the argument is going to be that the artificial wombs would be too expensive, thus it would be "discriminating against poor women" and would be "too much money to spend just to add one more person too the population". After all, at first it wouldn't be the kind of money you'd like to spend on a "potential human".

That argument will fall on its face. We already value life over expense, as evidenced by the support of comatose patients. The only way an argument in favor of abortion will work is if you make it a decision between abortion and similarly severe violation of human rights. That's why the bodily integrity argument contends as well as it does. Financial burden doesn't compare (also evidenced by the mandatory child support biological fathers have to pay).

A Duck said...

Actually the point is probably evading childbirth, not parenthood. Though parenthood may also be a factor.

Nulono said...

The statistics show parenthood is more of a factor than birth.

As for the expense argument, it works if you assume the unborn child is inhuman, as most pro-abortion arguments already do.

Pantheroom said...

"the real objective of abortion is not to terminate a pregnancy, but to kill a baby.

Please try to use less emotionally charged verbiage. This makes it sound as if abortion advocates (or mothers who want abortions) have some sort of vindictive vendetta against the child, which is not true."

Yes, I agree with your statement that this is a moot point. What was stated by SP is true: the point is to kill a baby. Whether you interpret that as evil is completely up to you-- despite your truly compassionate defense of a distraught mother-to-be's motivation, the end goal and end result is the same: to kill a baby. What some consider to be "evil" acts don't necessarily have to align with evil motives. And I think that was the point of distinction-- an extremely important distinction because (again, whether or not the motivation is "evil") the goal is not what pro-choicers often say it is. And if technology advances, we will see evidence of the actual goal.

Your mission to soften the reality of the end goal by taking into account the turmoil of the mother ("escape the guilt and burden of having a child out there") is a path of non-accountability that pro-choicers use every day. It's not that the turmoil does not exist, it is the fact that it is not even a semi-mediocre excuse to kill a human being that must be realized.

Your rephrase is literally a synonym in less *real* terminology. You and many may balk at the "harshness" but to me and others, it's a reality that is all too often "softened"-- and the very reason we are in the cesspool of fetal death that is "sexual freedom".

Pantheroom said...

"I think what you're saying is that the point of abortion is to avoid parenthood or, more specifically, escape the guilt and burden of having a child out there who you either cannot or did not care for."

This *is* synonymous with killing a baby. There is *no* other way to avoid existing as a parent without killing the child. So to term this in any other way is to distract from the most vital attribute of "escape the guilt and burden of having a child out there" that came from you.

How you term this reflects on what you consider the most vital attribute of the choice, and again you'll notice that pro-choicers will *always* voice it in a way that makes the mother's perspective the number one most important issue-- not the life of the human they are terminating.

Pantheroom said...

Why did my first post disappear?

A Duck said...

@Pantheroom

I realize that the means are the same regardless of which motive it is, but understanding motive is important if you're trying to persuade people against the pro-choice perspective.

I'm not saying abortion doesn't kill fetus's. I'm saying the reason for it is because the pregnant women don't want to be parents rather than because they want to kill babies. And the reason I'm pointing this out is so people on the pro-life side don't sound the way Yonmei does. She assigns pro-lifers misogynistic motives because a misogynist might seek the same legislation pro-lifers seek, but for more vindictive reasons.

Similarly, some pro-lifers might accuse pro-choicers of hating children or fetus's, which doesn't help the pro-life cause at all. Do you see why the distinction is important now?


@Nulono

The statistics show parenthood is more of a factor than birth.

Quoting myself: Actually the point is probably evading childbirth, not parenthood. Though parenthood may also be a factor.

I'd never seen the statistics on it, I was speculating here. But note I realize that parenthood is a factor regardless.

As for the expense argument, it works if you assume the unborn child is inhuman, as most pro-abortion arguments already do.

While there is debate over what a "person" is and whether or not fetus's qualify, they are undebatably human. If the question comes down to whether or not we should spend money on a non-person (which it probably will), it's still a weak argument because, as I mentioned before, it's an argument of finance being made against an argument of human rights. Also, again, fathers have to pay mandatory child support. Without the justification of protecting a woman's bodily integrity, it doesn't hold so well to say you can obligated men to pay for a child but not women.

Simon said...

I'm not sure we can decide either way. I do think it will give rise to a new even stronger round of debates and since more and more young people are becoming Pro-life we would then have another major reason for this trend to continue.

Pantheroom said...

Duck, I completely understand what you're saying and I agree with you-- we need not assign false motive, we need not alienate those we are trying to reach out to.

But... "I realize that the means are the same regardless of which motive it is, but understanding motive is important if you're trying to persuade people against the pro-choice perspective." ...I do not believe SP was trying to persuade anyone with this post. I believe SP was being bluntly honest to get to another point.

A Duck said...

I do not believe SP was trying to persuade anyone with this post. I believe SP was being bluntly honest to get to another point.

Okay, perhaps I should rephrase. If you make an argument that artificial wombs won't hold because pregnant women's motive for abortion is to kill the fetus, you may be incorrect because you're overlooking a crucial distinction.

Pregnant women's motive for abortion is to evade the burden of a newborn and their justification for abortion is defense of their bodily integrity. If their defense of bodily integrity no longer holds and they can still evade the burden of a newborn by handing the fetus off to an artificial incubator at an early stage, then artificial incubators actually do provide a good alternative for a lot of abortions. Which is why I brought it up. The speculation on the ineffectiveness of artificial incubators in this post was inaccurate, and I think we should have more confidence in this technological solution.

See, when it comes down to it, I'm really just trying to raise morale. ;)

M said...

There will still be people who argue that the emotional and psychological hardship of knowing your offspring is out there, somewhere, being raised by someone else, is too great, and you should be allowed to terminate the pregnancy instead. However I think they will be a minority. It's a much colder argument and harder to sell.

So I think A Duck is right: there would be many, if not all, who would consider this an excellent alternative to abortion.