Welcome to the World of the Artificial Womb
We’re “a few years away” from artificial wombs and uterus transplants. Yet discussion about sex and gender is stuck in the past.
Patriarchy is boring. This is not its most serious sin, but every once in a while you come across a piece of information that reminds you how grim and dull our discourse around gender has become — how, in the struggle to preserve our basic rights, we’ve allowed the discussion to be all but stripped of imagination or hope.
This week’s reminder comes in the form of an article from WIRED, entitled “Artificial Wombs Will Change Abortion Rights Forever.” In recent years, there have been several medical advances — including the Biobag, an artificial uterus which successfully brought lamb fetuses to term in 2017 — which promise an advent of pregnancy-free reproduction.
That is: In the near future, you will no longer need to host a fetus in your body in order to have a baby. There will be no need for anyone to risk pain, ill health, or death in order to bring a pregnancy to term. You will not need to have a partner of the “opposite sex,” or any partner, or even access to both sperm and egg cells; in 2022, researchers at the Weizmann Institute of Science and the University of Cambridge used stem cells (from mice) to create fully synthetic embryos. We are on the brink of a future in which anyone, of any gender, with any body type, in any kind of relationship, can give life to a child.
This is 2023, and in the post-Musk, post-Zuckerberg era, no-one can reasonably argue that technology alone will cure all of society’s ills. Rosalind Moran and Julie Zhou, the authors of the WIRED article, note several potentially dystopian outcomes; in order to really change the game, artificial wombs would have to be universally available, instead of being (as they almost certainly will be, in the United States) reserved for the very rich. The potential to end a pregnancy without terminating the fetus could also make it possible to coerce more people into parenthood — for example, if one partner wants to abort, and the other doesn’t, the artificial womb could be a “compromise” that is also a means of control.