No Uterus Required

Share on FacebookShare on Google+Email this to someoneTweet about this on Twitter

The birth of Emylea Tharby in London, Ontario last April may one day be looked on as a watershed moment in the abortion debates. Little Emylea’s birth was a unique event, not just for her parents, but for the medical profession as well:

On April 30, Ms. Tharby gave birth to her daughter, Emylea, at 33 weeks. It was only during the vertical caesarean section that doctors discovered the umbilical cord was attached to the outside of the uterus. Emylea had grown in her mother’s abdominal cavity, her skull flattened slightly from butting Ms. Tharby’s liver.

The baby’s survival, while being described as miraculous, also lends credibility to a theory almost universally relegated to the realm of science fiction: that any human, woman or man, can give birth.

Most commentary is focusing on the novel prospects of men carrying babies to term, which doesn’t surprise me considering the amount of continued interest we see in my post on Male Lactation. However, I think that more a more likely outcome will be an outsourcing of fetal gestation, especially as research in artifical uteri continues to progress, and the cost-effectiveness of egg-banking brings that practice within range of many more young woman, thus enabling them to combine eggs harvested during prime years with child rearing at a more mature age, where the mother is better equipped in terms of personal capital.

However, the pro-life forces will surely have recogized that little Emylea viably developed outside of the womb. A way to short circuit the abortion debate might be to offer fetal extraction procedures instead of fetal extinction procedures. The extracted fetus is then gestated within the womb of another or within an artificial uterus. Fetal extraction procedures would certainly make it more difficult for the pro-choice movement to argue for the right to fetal extinction. Such a leap in technology would also undercut a woman’s legal claim to the privacy and primacy of her right to control her reproduction and that by extracting the fetus and transplanting it, she hasn’t provided consent to having her child be born. Such an argument would be weakened for her rights to assent to the birth would now be on equal footing with men who don’t have the right to veto a woman’s pregnancy on the grounds of not consenting to having a child. Men’s rights currently take a secondary role to those of women because the health burden of pregnancy or abortion falls solely on the woman. Of course, the issue of state intervention and the financial responsibility for unwanted fetuses would still be in the air. Would pro-life forces be willing to provide either natural or artificial gestatation and adopt all of the extracted fetusus or will they seek to push that responsbility onto their fellow citizens?

Now let’s avoid the standard pro-choice/pro-life talking points in comments, which means the ethical and religious aspects of the debate. Advocates of each side won’t make any inroads with their opponents and we won’t really advance the debate by progressing down that road. Instead, let’s focus on the legal, scientific and sociological implications associated with advancing reproductive technology.

20 Comments

  1. I doubt anything will come of it. If pro life forces really wanted to prevent abortions they would have done so through financial incentives long ago. 
    With the amount of effort that has gone into the debate they could have paid most people who have abortions enough to get them to carry children to term, or could have paid the same people to use reliable birth control or to remain abstinent during the period in their lives when abortions are most likely, either out of their own pockets or through legislation.  
    Abortion is a major political issue. Keeping it so is in the political interest of a huge power group. They don’t want to solve the problem, which is why the supreme court justices nominated under Bush will not be judges willing to overturn Roe vs Wade.

  2. Michael: 
     
    I agree with you in your assertation that many political creers depend upon the abortion debate, and so those with careers at stake wouldnt want the issue to be resolved-and I think there are enough of these charlatans on both sides of the debate. 
     
    I disagree that finacial incentives would have prevented abortions to the xtent that you think. 
     
    I think that there is one more reason for why the bush justices will not overturn roe vs wade. More likely than not it will provoke anarchy and mayhem on the streets- and none responsible wants that. I do think that RvW will be whittle away at incrementaly and slowly.

  3. The major issue is that viability apart from the womb, one of the main tenets of Roe v. Wade, is threatened. 
     
    Pointing out that the anti-abortion crowd isn’t willing to pay lots and lots of money to stop abortion isn’t really a convincing argument. Apply it to child murder instead: people are perfectly find with the hyprocrisy of punishing child murderers without proving one’s goodwill by adopting.

  4. I would argue that the definitions of viability would tend to change. In terms of abortion, a pregnency that’s past a certain point might be affected by viability and the state would intervene as they do now. 
     
    If viability is lowered through technical means to 8 weeks with the fetus having to be moved to an artificial uterus and cared for by the state and this is to be the procedure in lieu of abortion, I have trouble imagining viability as a criterion of personhood extending that far. 
     
    However, in the rare cases of a dispute between the parents, where the mother wants to abort and the father wants the child, the fetus could be considered joint “property” and awarded to the father, with the mother obligated to pay child support for 20 years and the father raises the child. 
     
    IOW, if someone is willing to step up and claim responsibility for the child, then the procedure leads to viability. But uninterested parties interveneing and mandating the fetus be brought to viabiiity via extraction and that the state care for the fetus after it’s born seems quite intrusive.

  5. I have trouble imagining viability as a criterion of personhood extending that far. 
     
    Viability was fine as a criterion of personhood when it allowed you to perform more abortions, I see. But not anymore now that the ball is in the other court. 
     
    I have trouble commending that as a principled position.

  6. when it allowed you to perform more abortions, I see. 
     
    I didn’t perform any abortions.  
     
    Is it so impossible to discuss futuristic aspects of reproductive technology without getting bogged down in present day abortion politics?

  7. Thrasymachus says: 
     
     
    Apply it to child murder instead: people are perfectly find with the hyprocrisy of punishing child murderers without proving one’s goodwill by adopting. 
     
     
    I don’t understand what you are saying here? 
     
    Do I really have to adopt children (when I already have two and they take up all my time) just to be able to suggest that a step-father who murders his partner’s child should be punished?

  8. TangoMan— 
     
    “You” did not mean “you personally.” But it’s sure fun parsing syntax instead of holding honest debate. 
     
    Is it so impossible to discuss futuristic aspects of reproductive technology without getting bogged down in present day abortion politics? 
     
    I don’t know. You brought it up, if you recall. 
     
    RichardSharpe— 
     
    Do I really have to adopt children (when I already have two and they take up all my time) just to be able to suggest that a step-father who murders his partner’s child should be punished? 
     
    Exactly my point, of course. Hence a person can be against abortions without donating obscene amounts of money to some sort of “save the embryos” campaign.

  9. The word “viability” showed up somewhere in a piece of trashy sophism, I believe. Why bother with it. 
     
    People are “pro-choice” because they fear the distortion/pain/tedium of pregnancy/birth/child rearing. Or demographic reasons. 
     
    People are “pro-life” because of typical moral sentiments or squeamishness. Or demographic reasons. 
    …. 
    If you don’t need a Uterus, you don’t need an artificial Uterus. Probably a tank of saline and a dextrose drip would do it. (Maybe.)

  10. I wasn’t demanding adoption, just funding, which they could provide directly or through the political process. They are clearly more motivated to condemn and punish the supposed crime than to prevent it. That may not be hypocritical, depending on one’s morality, but it’s clearly dispicable. At any rate, I want to stay on topic, so I won’t reply to further statements on this thread.

  11. I think you underestimate the difficulty of constructing an artificial uterus that will provide outcomes comparable to those provided by a natural one. And it’s not clear to me how the research needed to close the gap can be done ethically. I guess that it would proceed stepwise as incubators for prematurely born infants become more advanced, but there are a couple of big leaps – first an artificial umbilicus (or perhaps an artificial uterine wall, if you want to implant fetus and placenta together), then a changeover to a liquid environment (artificial amniotic fluid). In order to supply the umbilicus/placenta you need good artificial blood. Not just oxygen supply and a few nutrients, but everything that the maternal blood supplies. No, you can’t just run to the blood bank – maternal blood chemistry during pregnancy is markedly different than baseline. Then you need to duplicate the endocrine signaling that occurs during pregnancy so that androgens, leptin and a hundred other things are supplied at levels appropriate to normal development. 
     
    By way of a cautionary example, note that life outcomes for children born of inv-vitro fertilization are measurably different than for normally conceived children. In this case the prenatal environment is only affected for a little while, and already unforeseen differences arise.

  12. use a cow’s uterus?

  13. “A way to short circuit the abortion debate might be to offer fetal extraction procedures instead of fetal extinction procedures.” 
     
    But we DO offer “fetal extraction” procedures instead of “fetal extinction” procedures. They are called “birth”.  
     
    What do you think the anti-abortion types were doing when they attempted to ban partial-birth abortions?  
     
    The whole point was to take maternal health out of the equation and make us face the fact that the goal of abortion WAS “fetal extinction.” 
     
    In rejecting partial birth abortion bans, the courts recognized sub rosa that fetal extinction is the purpose behind abortion — or rather that a woman is entitled to an abortion on demand, AND can take affirmative preliminary measures (fetal chemical poisoning and/or brain extraction) to insure that an otherwise perfectly normal, perfectly healthy viable child is born dead.  
     
    No offense, but given this political and legal reality, why would one think that an alternative procedure for fetal extraction would change things?

  14. Surely these “artificial wombs” are going to be female bodies, derived from human stock via genetic manipulation, with higher brain functions and unnecessary limbs etc. “zeroed out”. What could be more like Mother? And who could possibly object except a few religious cranks and sentimentalists? Surely no principled objections exist?  
     
    Still, I don’t suppose you’ll see to many pictures of these gestational units in the popular media.

  15. Just a data point to buttress the point that given a chance, conservatives will pay for alternatives to abortion, consider Liberty Godparent Home. Situated in Lynchburg (which is how I know about it), “The Liberty Godparent Home is a Christian, residential maternity home providing housing, education, medical care, and counseling for single, pregnant young women who either parent their child or place their child for adoption.“ 
     
    Outside of Lynchburg (well in Lynchburg as well), many locations have Family Life Services (just google Family Life Services) which will help arrange for alternatives to abortions (adoptions, help with financing for school, creative day care programs for continuing education).

  16. Two things: One, Tangoman said: 
     
    “I would argue that the definitions of viability would tend to change. In terms of abortion, a pregnency that’s past a certain point might be affected by viability and the state would intervene as they do now.” 
     
    As they do now? The state (here in America) does NOT intervene past the point of viability. Roe vs. Wade has made abortion legal up to birth, and no state law can touch it. (That’s why the courts threw out the ban on partial birth abortion.) If we are going to discuss abortion, let’s at least get our facts straight. Abortion is legal in America in every state for any reason at any point prior to birth, regardless of whether the baby could be expected to survive outside the womb.  
     
    The second thing I wanted to say is in regards to the whole question of financial responsibility for unwanted fetuses raised outside the womb. The thing I don’t understand about pro-choicers is that every one of them will agree that society has a right to tell parents that they have a responsibility to raise and provide for the children they have abandoned. If a man or woman leaves his child out on the street to starve, he or she is rightfully charged with abandonment and child abuse. Yet pro-choicers think that a parent’s responsibility to their children only applies to children that are already born. Why does the mother of a child fifteen minutes before its birth not have the same responsibility to care for that child as the mother of a child born fifteen minutes ago?  
     
    Some people might argue that parents have a responsibility to provide for their children, but NOT at the expense of giving up their sovereignty over their own bodies. I think this is a disengenous argument for the following reason. Imagine that a woman and her infant are “snowed in” her cabin during a blizzard for a few days. The infant is hungry and the woman is lactating, but she refuses, on principle alone, to breastfeed the baby and as a direct result, the baby dies. Would you have any trouble charging this woman for negligence? I can’t imagine that anyone would. But she is merely taking the same principled stand that most pro-choicers take to its logical conclusion. So if you’re pro-choice, how can you charge or even condemn her? Unless you fall back on the argument that different rules apply to unborn versus born children, which brings us back to the question I asked above of “Why?”

  17. The second line in the second paragraph should end with the word “conceived”, not “abandoned”. Sorry, I typed in haste.

  18. It’s not possible to underestimate the difficulty of creating a workable artificial uterus. The embryo brings most everything it needs. The embryo brings the developing fetus, the placenta, the amniotic sack. All you need is a blood perfused tissue sack (muscle works) and an epithelial lining for implantation (not 100% necessary, but helpful). You need to keep the amniotic sac confined and the fluid appropriately heated. The elasticity of muscle gives the developing fetus something to bounce and kick against, good exercise. Provide changing light and pleasant sound environments including the beating heart of a young healthy woman. Shift the position periodically.

  19. Not possible to underestimate? Strange claim if taken literally. Wasn’t someone posting about saline solution and a dextrose drip? A nice counterexample, but seems to have been deleted as a troll… 
    Anyway, I agree that the procedure you outline could probably produce viable infants provided you work out some details in the blood supply (you don’t mention how you plan to supply blood with nutrients) and also the hormonal details required for successful implantation. However, you didn’t really address the qualifier to my statement, which is that outcomes for these infants are likely to be inferior for a long time to those produced by natural gestation, and that this in turn makes the whole process unethical.

  20. No one knows what the outcomes for artificial-womb-grown infants would be. I suspect a great deal of animal experimentation with artificial wombs would precede attempts with human embryo implantations. The procedure would likely be refined significantly after such animal experiments.

a