The artificial womb and the Sexual Revolution

Writing at the Gospel Coalition website, Alastair Roberts analyzed recent news about the development of an artificial womb. While this technology may undermine arguments for abortion, he writes, it also has the potential to reinforce the logic of the Sexual Revolution. An excerpt:

The intense physical bond between mother and infant is one of the most stubborn obstacles to an egalitarian and individualistic society:

  • It represents what is perhaps the most defining difference between the sexes.
  • It is largely responsible for the failure of women to achieve similar economic outcomes to men.
  • It is in profound tension with the logic of autonomous choice and cannot easily be squared with individualism.
  • It privileges the male and female union over same-sex relationships. It supports sexist biological understandings of parenthood—“mother” and “father”—over fluid and gender-neutral models of “parenting.”
  • It grounds womanly identity in the female body in ways that support oppressive myths that bind women to their children and that also marginalize transwomen.

In these and many other ways, pregnancy and the womb represent problems for our society. Technologies enabling us to circumvent or outmode natural pregnancy would, no doubt, be lauded by many as a movement in the direction of equality.

Abortion and autonomy

In a post from a couple of years ago, Steven Wedgeworth offered this interpretation based on his experiences in talking to people outside of abortion clinics:

Abortion, at least today, in the Southern states, is not some sort of last ditch effort to preserve one life, which would be legitimately threatened, at the tragic but necessary expense of another. Instead it is a projection of strength on the part of the would-be mother.

What do I mean? Abortion is today a way, not to get help in a difficult situation, but to avoid needing help. It is a way to “take control” of one’s life and prove self-sufficiency. This is why it is pitched as a form of “women’s equality.” Abortion is what it takes to see to it that a woman is not inferior or weak. It prevents her from being at someone else’s mercy. This is also why it is quickly becoming a sort of “human right,” something which must be provided by all just governments. To not provide it for women is basically framed as an injustice, a lack of fairness and equality. In short, it is a legal device to prevent the need for charity or other concessions to a weak situation.

Abortion, violence, and choice

Some compelling passages from Frederica Mathewes-Greene’s essay on Roe v. Wade from earlier this year:

Once I recognized the inherent violence of abortion, none of the feminist arguments made sense. Like the claim that a fetus is not really a person because it is so small. Well, I’m only 5 foot 1. Women, in general, are smaller than men. Do we really want to advance a principle that big people have more value than small people? That if you catch them before they’ve reached a certain size, it’s all right to kill them?

What about the child who is “unwanted”? It was a basic premise of early feminism that women should not base their sense of worth on whether or not a man “wants” them. We are valuable simply because we are members of the human race, regardless of any other person’s approval. Do we really want to say that “unwanted” people might as well be dead? What about a woman who is “wanted” when she’s young and sexy but less so as she gets older? At what point is it all right to terminate her?…

Many years ago I wrote something in an essay about abortion, and I was surprised that the line got picked up and frequently quoted. I’ve seen it in both pro-life and pro-choice contexts, so it appears to be something both sides agree on.

I wrote, “No one wants an abortion as she wants an ice cream cone or a Porsche. She wants an abortion as an animal, caught in a trap, wants to gnaw off its own leg.”

Strange, isn’t it, that both pro-choice and pro-life people agree that is true? Abortion is a horrible and harrowing experience. That women choose it so frequently shows how much worse continuing a pregnancy can be. Essentially, we’ve agreed to surgically alter women so that they can get along in a man’s world. And then expect them to be grateful for it.

Nobody wants to have an abortion. And if nobody wants to have an abortion, why are women doing it, 2,800 times a day? If women doing something 2,800 times daily that they don’t want to do, this is not liberation we’ve won. We are colluding in a strange new form of oppression.

It’s interesting and disturbing (but understandable given the presuppositions operating) that there seems to be pushback from some pro-abortion rights activists against this characterization, that there is nothing to be ashamed of regarding abortion. If I recall correctly, the sign that I’ve seen says, “Abortion on demand and without apology.”

Carl Trueman on personhood and taste

Trueman recently asked a good question and provided a provocative answer:

When is a person not a person and yet still a person at the same time?

Let me put the question another way.  If sexual ethics is increasingly built on the sole foundation of consent between the parties, should child sexual abuse be legalized and even encouraged?  If, as Ivy League ethicist Peter Singer has argued (with increasing acceptance, so it seems), newborn babies are not persons and can be killed without such an act being considered murder, then could the same child be sexually abused with impunity?  And if not, why not?…

This question exposes the real nature of contemporary ethics.  It is not that we now randomly make up our morality as we go along.  On the contrary, there is a definite logic to contemporary secular ethical thought: it offers philosophical rationales after the fact, and thus a veneer of specious moral integrity, for judgments that are at heart aesthetic and built on little more than convenience and fashion.

How to encourage parents with disabled children

My friend Rick put together a short list of things that parents of kids with disabilities appreciate hearing:

1. “I love his/her smile.” Or think of some other beautiful reflection of their humanity worth noting.
2. “What are his/her hobbies, favorite activities, sports?” Again, focus on a shared aspect of their humanity by inquiring about what they like. You can be a source of joy by providing a thoughtful gift oriented towards something he/she likes.
3. “What’s his/her favorite food to eat?” Another inquiry about shared humanity. You can be a blessing by perhaps dropping off a meal or snack or dessert that the child likes.

Rick also wrote a good response to Richard Dawkins’ recent comments about the moral necessity of aborting children with Down Syndrome.

Begotten or MadeBegotten or Made by Oliver O’Donovan

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

O’Donovan’s jumping-off point was a British government report on artificial fertilization in the 1980s. He explores the differences between making a child through technique (which a technology society wants to do for everything) and begetting (or attempting to beget) a child like ourselves but without the level of control that advances in reproductive technology promise. He attempts to think through these issues, and the purpose of medicine in general, in a Christian way, and also discusses sex change operations as examples of this modern assertion of technique over the human body.

I found his arguments provocative and persuasive, but I have read very little in the area of bioethics. It’s an area that I wish I knew more about.

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Reproductive technology and the abolition of man

Andrew Sandlin’s website recently featured a column by Scott Masson relating reproductive “innovations” like the ones in this column (which he referred to; here’s another recent example) to the reflections of C.S. Lewis in The Abolition of Man. A key excerpt:

Although the relation of power and responsibility is a perennial theme in literature, science fiction breaks ranks with the entire humanities tradition precisely because of its object and its understanding of the human. The ethical teaching of the sages of the ancient world had equipped us to relate to our fellow man as individuals. They were not naïve. It was a Roman proverb that warned that homo homini lupus (man is a wolf to man). There was no nobility to our savagery in their eyes. But they assumed that man, as a creature living in his own world, would continue to propagate himself, his kin and his nation naturally, not turn his power upon himself. Regardless of the blight of war, pestilence and famine, he would never consider eradicating his own existence or the natural world around him as it had been created. The sages of old never considered that we would adopt what the philosopher Thomas Nagel has called the view from nowhere, or conceive that, as Hannah Arendt has observed of our scientific contemporaries’ perspective, the human condition was a prison to be escaped. To such a radical perspective, only Divine revelation can speak persuasively.

I believe that is why it is those who have imbibed the wisdom of the Scriptures are so profoundly needed in our day. This is where the third of the men who died on that inauspicious fall day, C.S. Lewis, comes in. Unlike Huxley, he remains unread in most schools. Yet it was he who prophetically warned where unbridled technology and an amoral science bent on reimagining the human might lead.

In his wartime Durham lectures, later collected under the title The Abolition of Man, Lewis observed that a ruling class of technocrats and well-meaning experts had arisen who were seeking to conquer nature and its ills, only to end up conquering man. What they were doing in the name of humanity had a decidedly ironic and inhumane end. In his memorable words, “What we call Man’s power over Nature turns out to be power exercised by some men over other men with Nature as its instrument.” He continued, “Man’s conquest of Nature, if the dreams of some scientific planners are realized, means the rule of a few hundreds of men over billions upon billions of men. There neither is nor can be any simple increase of power on Man’s side. Each new power won by man is a power over man as well.”

Speaking in 1945, Lewis was doubtless reflecting on the eugenics movement of his day and the totalizing power of the state, particularly evident in Nazi Germany; yet he was explicitly ruminating upon the educational and cultural establishment of his own country (and the Western world) that had given rise to it. It is this fact, which also characterizes the third installment of his own science fiction trilogy, which makes his insights as relevant as ever. The “humanitarian” impulse of the scientific and political elite has not left us, in fact, the social “conditioners” in education who have “abolished man” have gathered strength; biotechnology has become a huge element of our economy; and the power of technology has steadily grown and expanded into our very homes.

In the third essay of The Abolition of Man, which shares the title of the whole work, Lewis specifically addresses contraceptives as one of his examples of the things that are trumpeted as examples of Man’s control of Nature (probably more explicitly in his day — I think that the language of rights and liberation has more currency in our day). Here is his reference:

What we call Man’s power is, in reality, a power possessed by by some men which they may, or may not, allow other men to profit by. Again, as regards the powers manifested in the aeroplane or the wireless, Man is as much the patient or subject as the possessor, since he is the target both for bombs and propaganda. And as regards contraceptives, there is a paradoxical, negative sense in which all possible future generations are the patients or subjects of a power wielded by those already alive. By contraception simply, they are denied existence; by contraception used as a means of selective breeding, they are, without their concurring voice, made to be what one generation, for its own reasons, may choose to prefer. From this point of view, what we call Man’s power over Nature turns out to be a power exercised by some men over other men with Nature as its instrument. (pp. 66-67 in 1996 Touchstone edition)