Jul 292017
 

A device you see from time to time in science fiction is the “artificial womb.” It would be a handy device for a woman who wants to have a baby but for whatever reason cannot actually carry the baby. Or for interplanetary or interstellar colonization: once you have the machine set up, you can grow baby cows or rabbits or dogs or people from easy-to-ship frozen embryos.

Well, neato: some first steps in developing a practical “artificial womb” have been taken, successfully gestating the last month of premature lambs which were subsequently “decanted” and raised for a year.

An extra-uterine system to physiologically support the extreme premature lamb

So, good news, right? A technology that could make life better, right? Who could possibly have a problem with this?

If you said “pro-abortion activists,” ding ding ding you win!

How New Technology Could Threaten a Woman’s Right to Abortion

The argument is that the artificial womb should make it possible to push the “age of viability” earlier and earlier during pregnancy, and that could affect the legality of abortions, pushing the legal maximum limit earlier and earlier. And so… this technology is bad.

Right now if you are, say, 9 weeks pregnant and you want you kid out, hoovering it out through a cuisinart seems to be about the only way. So far as I’m aware very little work as been done on safely, much less conveniently, removing a fetus and the associated support infrastructure. The reason for this should be obvious… until now there’s been nothing you could do to save the fetus. But now, at least theoretically a fetus could be extracted and put in an artificial womb and raised successfully.

Of course, carefully extracting a live fetus is more of a chore than a simple abortion. But the artificial womb isn’t quite ready for prime time, either. Seems like some work should allow for a relatively straightforward transfer of a viable fetus to an artificial womb.

What the people upset about this are arguing is that it will make it more difficult for women to get an abortion because a technological advance would expand the definition of what a person is. This is not exactly a new concept in history. Cough cough slavery cough cough.

Here’s the thing that bugs me about the people upset about this: the technology, once perfected, should allow for functionally the same outcome as abortion. You walk in with an unwanted pregnancy, you walk out without one. This difference is… killing a fetus vs. not killing a fetus. If it bothers you that you can’t legally kill a fetus anymore, then it seems to me that your issue was never “a womans right to control her own body,” but rather “I wanted to kill a fetus because reasons.”

 Posted by at 10:01 pm
  • Adam

    The sooner we perfect Artificial Womb technologies the better. Being forced to carry a baby does so much to a woman’s body that I consider it barbaric that we haven’t invented this earlier. Pregnant women are…ugly in my eyes.

    In case you’re wondering, yes I could be called a transhumanist. I’m all for rendering natural births completely obsolete in favor of methods that are objectively better at monitoring fetuses for potential problems and taking corrective actions if necessary.

    • Scottlowther

      Well, you must consider what being gestated in a machine might do to the resulting humans. There’s the obvious stuff… provide the right temperature and nutrients and such. But there’s also all the less obvious stuff, from the hormones that might be passed on to antibodies and all the epigenetic stuff. And the less quantifiable stuff, like the fetus *hearing* the mother…heartbeat (which can be simulated) and voice (which can’t be as readily simulated) and who knows what all else.

      It’s all this that makes me think that doing human trials in the US would be a red-tape-nightmare. But not to worry, I’ve little doubt that the Chinese will stamp these out by the millions and fill them with their genetic super-soldier experiments.

      • Adam

        Yeah, China doesn’t really care about such things as “ethics.”

      • Jeffersonian

        I seem to recall Larry Niven touching on that in his Heorot series.

        • Herp McDerp

          They seemed to work pretty well in Lois McMaster Bujold’s Vorkosigan stories.

          • Scottlowther

            The history of sci-fi is as interesting for what was missed as for what was successfully prophesied. Sure, there were many stories of mans first trip to the moon. None included that a good chunk of the planet would sit on its ass and watch it on TV, live. Probably none predicted that everyone would be bored with manned missions to the moon by the *third* flight, and that’s we’d stop with a dozen guys and not go back for more than fifty years.

            Simialrly, I doubt too many sci-fi authors looked into the future and saw social justice warriors. Sometimes reality is just too crazy to predict.

          • Adam

            Wasn’t the Luna prison colony depicted in The Moon is a Harsh Mistress supposed to have been established 20 years ago?

          • B-Sabre

            I think the “marching societies” from Dickson’s Dorsai series would qualify. And I seem to remember one Heinlein’s shorts featuring society being overrun by crazy fads right before it implodes from its own weight.

          • Brianna

            Yeah, but those books take place roughly a thousand years in the future. That being said, if the technologies mentioned in that book are ever perfected (gene cleaning and artificial gestation), I would be in total agreement with Cordelia: it would be irresponsible NOT to use them.

          • Scottlowther

            Not sure I agree with you on it *necessarily* being irresponsible to have babies the old fashioned way. As medtech improves, pregnancy should continue to to become simpler and safer. There will doubtless be psychological and sociological implications of separating gestation from the mother and turning the process into a distant procedure. As women who adopt show, you don’t *need* to carry a child to be a proper mother, but there *may* be some important general effects.

    • sferrin

      We should get rid of banging, eating, and going to the bathroom too. Barbaric.

  • thingytest 3

    Err… but if you don’t want the kid, is the state going to have to pay to support the orphan?

    • Scottlowther

      Actually, this technology could be a great way to help bring about vaunted “equality.” let’s say it’s 2017 and two people bang, then go their separate ways. A month later the woman discovers she’s pregnant. If she wants to abort, she can go do so. If she wants to carry it to term, she can. If she wants to give it up for adoption, she can, If she wants to keep it, she can. If, however, the *guy* wnats to abort it, keep it or adopt it out, he has no legal say in the matter… but he *is* on the hook for it financially f the woman decides to keep it. The law is basically written to say that “you’re financially responsible for it for the next 18 years because you should’ve know that this could be a result of banging.”

      But let’s say it’s 2037 and the same thing happens. Instead of abortion, there’s transplantation. Still entirely the womans choice. but abortion is now illegal except for the life of the mother, and then still only when they can’t simply transplant the offending fetus out. OK, so let’s say the woman decides to get rid of the fetus and adopt it out. Well… glass ceilings, wage gaps, all that have been done away with. So now *she* is as equally financially on the hook for monthly maintenance fees for the fetus and subsequent child, up until its adopted.

      Doing it this way would, perhaps, just maybe, convince people to behave with a little more foresight.

      • thingytest 3

        Errr… taxpayers will still have to foot the bill for the womb tank, the orphan’s education, etc.

        • Scottlowther

          In exactly the same way taxpayers have to foot the bill for orphans *now.* So, again, are you in favor of feeding unwanted orphans through a shredder?

          • thingytest 3

            Orphans suffer. Preterm fetuses suffer much less. Unwanted orphans cannot be killed because of that. Preterm (or pre-12-week, what have you) infants suffer much less. Infanticide causes less suffering than killing grown orphans (which is why infanticide was a separate crime from murder, and carried a sentence less harsh back in the day). Abortion causes even less suffering.
            All are unpalatable choices, but some are less unpalatable than others.

  • becida

    What bothers me is control, people wanting/forcing others to live and act according to their belief systems.
    Technology is just a tool.

    • Exactly. If some right to life person wants to save that embryo, that person should buy the embryo, pay for the exo-womb, and adopt the child.

      Put your money where your mouth is, instead of using state dictat.

      • Scottlowther

        OK, how about this: someone drops off a just-born baby at a state hospital, or a toddler at a police station. If the baby or toddler isn’t picked up by a right-to-lifer, does the state feed the unwanted child through a woodchipper? Sell it into slavery in the Middle East? Send it down to the Soylent plant?

        What the ArtiWomb 6000SUX does is expand the definition of what a person is. This is not new. There have been times in human history when babies and children were not really thought of as people because the child mortality rate was so high; advances in medical and agricultural tech allowed for the expansion of personhood.

        • thingytest 3

          Such practices (infanticide, orphan drop-offs, etc.) cause much suffering and should be discouraged, and abortion discourages these practices by preventing their occurrence. Abortions cause much less suffering than that experienced by an orphan living his/her childhood years in an orphanage, and presumably incur lower monetary costs.
          This commentor assumes that adoption rates are too low to replace biological parents. It is also possible that orphans generally have fewer opportunities than children with biological parents, and end up worse off on average. This commentor does not know, but if this were true, it would also generate more suffering and incur greater societal costs than adoption.

          • Scottlowther

            > such practices (infanticide, orphan drop-offs, etc.) cause much suffering
            and should be discouraged, and abortion discourages these practices by
            preventing their occurrence.

            Ah, but that’s the thing. If artificial wombs *and* easy transplantation become practical, then it will become increasingly difficult to see a fetus as *not* being legally a person. So an abortion will be increasingly seen as infanticide. Encouraging abortion thus encourages infanticide.

            And assuming the rest is true about how horrible orphans have it and how much they cost, please explain why killing them outright is the wrong solution.

          • thingytest 3

            I apologize for answering the same question twice in the same feed. I wish the feeds had been consolidated. 🙁
            Thank you for bringing this wonderful new advance to my attention.
            Orphans suffer. Preterm fetuses suffer much less. Unwanted orphans cannot be killed because of that. Preterm (or pre-12-week/semi-arbitrary deadline) infants suffer much less. Infanticide causes less suffering than killing grown orphans, and saves destitute families from the burden of a child (which is why infanticide is (was?) a separate crime from murder, and carries (carried?) a more lenient sentence). Abortion causes even less suffering.
            All are unpalatable choices, but some are less unpalatable than others.

          • sferrin

            “Unwanted orphans cannot be killed because of that.”
            You almost sound disappointed.

          • Scottlowther

            If orphans suffer simply by existing, explain why you would not simply kill them through a suffering-free system like asphyxiation with helium or nitrogen. This would reduce overall suffering AND cost. And then why you would not simply drape a big-ass tarp over most prisons and old folks home and hospices and fill them with pure nitrogen.

          • Uxi

            Orphans suffer? Ask them if they want to live or not.

          • sferrin

            “Abortions cause much less suffering than that experienced by an orphan living his/her childhood years in an orphanage, and presumably incur lower monetary costs. ”

            So you’re killing the child for it’s own sake? Can we do that to prisoners and illegals as well? You know, for the children.

        • Poor reduction to absurdity argument there. People who can’t have kids will line up for miles to adopt the kid, and pay as much as needed to do so. No need to get the woodchipper out. And there are enough of them to vet out mideast slavers.

          If a right to lifer wants to save that fetus, he needs to find someone responsible to pay for it if he can’t afford to. That shouldn’t be difficult.

          • Scottlowther

            You’ve not explained the difference between a fetus and an abandoned baby. Both require substantial investments. Drop a three month old off on my front porch, I can’t exactly set it loose in my back yard to forage.

          • Current federal law already handles this. Anyone can lawfully drop a baby off at a fire station or hospital. A state children services department will find someone to adopt. Before the advent of such services, a charity orphanage would have done the same.

          • sferrin

            Easy peasy lemon squeezy – the person who decided to get knocked up. Why should I, as a taxpayer, have to pay in any way, shape, or form for somebody else’s irresponsibility??

      • sferrin

        Easy peasy lemon squeezy – the person who decided to get knocked up. Why should I, as a taxpayer, have to pay in any way, shape, or form for somebody else’s irresponsibility?

      • Rick

        you mean like entitlements and benefits, and if someone wants another to get free life expenses they should pay themselves and for the rent, health care food and car expenses and adopt the recipient? Instead of taxing everyone else and making it mandatory?

    • Uxi

      Yes and using technology (or not) to murder is generally held to be bad by civilization…

  • se jones

    Be nice to get Brianna’s perspective on this.

    • Scottlowther

      Since she’s the only “openly female” blog commenter hereabouts…

      • se jones

        Oh and Roberta X!

        She has some good blogs of her own BTW. Love the “retrotechnologist” stuff.

        http://twowheeledmadwoman.blogspot.com/

        • Scottlowther

          Oh, yeah. There’s twice the wimmins!

          • Bruce

            Scott, I like how you say “wimmins” rather than women. It’s poor english
            but who’s counting?

  • allen

    what if said kids weren’t actually aborted…but kept by the government?

    wasn’t that sort of the opening scene to “soldier” with kurt russell?

  • Robbie

    “hoovering it out through a cuisinart” This made me laugh way too hard. Your witticism is why I love this blog, LOL.

  • xvdougl

    As the technology improves “viability” shifts toward conception. The argument she’s making is apples and oranges.

  • Brianna

    Sorry I was late to the party. Anyway, my perspective:

    I do think it would make it harder for people to argue that fetuses should be terminated, especially if the operation to transfer a fetus to an artificial womb became perfected to the point of being physically easy and risk-free to the mother. There could still be the argument that a woman should not have to raise a child she doesn’t want, but that wouldn’t preclude dumping the child into a state orphanage or giving it up for adoption. After all, we have laws similar to that now where if a mother doesn’t want a child she has given birth to, she can dump it at the police station no questions asked as long as it’s within a certain period of time after the birth. You could also argue that if there were truly consequence-free abortion (you wouldn’t even have to feel guilty for killing your fetus, since it is safely in it’s artificial womb) then the rate of abortions would probably increase, leading to an increase in unwanted children.

    What I think would probably happen in the long run in most societies (barring very religious ones) is that fetuses would legally be considered property for some period of time after conception regardless of whether it could be brought to term in an artificial womb or not, and only considered a person with a legal right to be born after this time period is up. I think this would happen not because people wouldn’t regard abortion as immoral, but because the amount of state regulation that it would take to keep all those fetuses safe would be considered too intrusive and extensive for most practical governments to implement, and because in the very earliest stages of conception, it would be hard for even the staunchest religious conservatives to argue that you’re killing a sentient person. For example, let’s say you try to fertilize a dozen eggs in the hopes of getting one good fetus, and you end up getting three. You only wanted one child. Are you really going to bring a blob of a dozen cells to term, just because you are technologically able? And if you do it for those two blobs, just how many unwanted children are you planning to bring into the world, and what exactly are you going to do with them when they’re out?

    • Brianna

      Side note: I would also be willing to bet that any society with artificial wombs would have sufficiently safe, prevalent, and effective birth control that it would be nearly impossible to even have an unwanted pregnancy. That would cut down on the number of abortions necessary in the first place, but also probably increase the social stigma on someone who got one, since they really have no excuse for being unwantedly pregnant in the first place (the birth control implant is free, 100% effective, and any doctor will give it to you upon puberty; what were you THINKING!?!)

      • Scottlowther

        > I would also be willing to bet that any society with artificial wombs
        would have sufficiently safe, prevalent, and effective birth control
        that it would be nearly impossible to even have an unwanted pregnancy.

        We’re pretty much there *now.* I’m sure I’ll catch hell for this, but really, how hard is “the pill?” I gotta take me a handful of pills every day. it’s not like it’s a friggen’ challenge.

        There used to be Norplant, but I guess there was some sort of problem with it.

        • Adam

          My friend has a girlfriend with an implant that suppressed her fertility. It was quite effective at preventing conception.

          • Scottlowther

            I have something far more effective for preventing conception: my personality. HEYO…

          • Adam

            On the serious side, I don’t think there’s a 100% foolproof defense against conception. The rate of birth control methods failing is incredibly low, but it still happens.

          • Scottlowther

            Celibacy is pretty close to 100%. *Actual* celibacy, of course.

          • Adam

            Now you’re just cheating.

          • Scottlowther

            Celibacy is generally kinda the opposite of cheating.

    • Scottlowther

      Re: fertilized eggs: I would imagine that as time goes by, they’ll get better at it and have fewer “excess” fertilized eggs, reducing the problem. In case it remains an issue, perhaps the thing to do would be to put the excess on ice; make them available for sale, and if they don’t sell within a certain length of time, dispose of them. or keep them on ice indefinitely, in preparation for mass storage aboard the arks heading to the offworld colonies.

      No, seriously. If a fertilized egg doesn’t get used by the originators within, say, 18 years, it becomes property of the state and put into long-term storage for… some purpose. It seems that a frozen embryo should be safely stored in a volume of, say, 1/10 of a cubic centimeter; 100,000,000 of them would be a block a little over 2 meters on a side. You could store an entire nation in the back of a van. And the more of them there are, the easier it gets to keep them all cold.