New technology, old problems
Life | Possible alternatives to abortion still face the hurdle of a woman’s perceived right to the death of the child
by Leah Hickman
Posted 10/02/20, 05:09 pm
A team of researchers in 2017 transplanted a fetal lamb into a plastic bag filled with fluid and hooked up to tubes. The contraption functioned like an artificial womb, supporting the lamb for up to four weeks until it could safely be delivered.
Dutch researchers are now in the early stages of adapting the technology, called ectogestation, for use with premature babies. In a research article published Monday in the journal Philosophy & Technology, doctoral student Christopher Stratman from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln argued that widely available ectogestation for humans in the future would change the abortion debate.
“The advent of ectogestation technology suggests that a woman’s choice to terminate her pregnancy will not automatically result in the death of the fetus,” Stratman wrote. “The focus of the controversy would then shift to a question regarding whether there is a right to the death of the fetus once ectogestation is a safe and widely available alternative to lethal abortions.” As long as someone would raise the developing baby, he argued, the parents would have no right to kill the child.
Many questions remain about when and how doctors would remove a baby from its mother and place it in an artificial womb. It’s also unclear how risky such a procedure would be for the woman and child.
“It’s an interesting argument, and he has a great point,” said Dr. Donna Harrison, executive director of the American Association of Pro-life Obstetricians and Gynecologists. Considering the future possibility of widely available and safe ectogestation, she said, “I think people would consider it. … It will be able to provide an alternative to abortion.”
But she questioned whether ectogestation would significantly affect the abortion debate.
Harrison said the cultural debate about abortion already covers whether a parent has a right to kill even an unborn baby who could survive outside of the womb. Divorcing couples sometimes argue over whether to destroy or keep frozen embryos created through in vitro fertilization. The embryos are capable of surviving outside of the mother, yet the parents still claim a right to decide whether they live or die.
The question also comes up in the debate over post-viability abortions, Harrison added. Some parents abort after the point in gestation at which the baby could survive outside of the womb even though adoptive parents would gladly raise the child. Harrison cited the testimony of abortionists in the 2006 Supreme Court hearings over the Partial Birth Abortion Ban Act, which was ultimately upheld. “Abortionists argued that the difference between a birth and an abortion is that the purpose of an abortion is to produce a dead baby,” Harrison said. Even with other options available, such as ectogestation, that purpose will likely remain a priority for pro-aborts.
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