- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 13, 2002

Science is a wonderful thing. To avoid letting mankind run out of ethical dilemmas (and all the sweet politics that flow from them,) science happily trots up and drops a new gift on our doorstep. Last weekend, the British newspaper Guardian Unlimited jauntily reported on the latest scientific breakthrough: artificial wombs.

According to this report, Hung-Ching Liu of Cornell University's Center for Reproductive Medicine and Infertility has created an artificial womb by taking cells from the lining of a natural womb and growing them on a biodegradable "scaffold" shaped like a woman's uterus. Encouraged by a generous dose of female and growth hormones, the cells grow into tissue, while the biodegradable scaffold dissolves.

Then the good doctor implants an embryo left over from a prior in vitro fertilization program, which embryo then cheerfully implants itself in those cells and begins to settle in to its new home.

This first test-run was "halted" after six days. Ms. Liu plans next time to let embryos develop for 14 days to see "if the embryos put down roots and veins into our artificial womb's walls and see if their cells differentiate into primitive organs and develop a primitive placenta."

The news account reports that both Ms. Liu's methods and a different method being developed by Ms. Yoshinori Kuwabara at Juntendo University in Tokyo will be capable of sustaining a child for nine months, and will become a reality "in a few years."

So, there we are. In a few years, science will be able to combine artificial insemination with artificial wombs and cut out the middleman and woman entirely: From conception to birth, if not quite immaculate, at least disembodied. So much for Genesis 3:16 "In pain you shall bring forth children."

At first, this might seem like a feminist career woman's dream: Not only can she avoid the messy part of conception, but she needn't miss a day of work due to pregnancy. What's more, as the Guardian story mentioned, the "mother" can indulge in tobacco, liquor and drugs during the "pregnancy" without adversely affecting "her" baby.

But of course, no fantasy ever plays out perfectly in real life, haven't you noticed? What will the artificial womb do to a woman's right to abort? Surely, with artificial wombs available, the carelessly impregnated woman would no longer be able to claim the right to casually abort her fetus.

The fetus simply could be shifted to the artificial womb, thereby alleviating the unintended mother of her constitutionally unendurable condition (but, while her right to privacy in her own body would be legally satisfied, her legal obligation to care for her young might disagreeably re-emerge. Oops, Roe vs. Wade might have to go in for a feminist rewrite.)

And, all the dollars currently spent by the right-to-life community to educate the country on the ills of abortion could be shifted to funding artificial womb centers to bring to birth the millions of unwanted babies. Also, of course, when these methods are combined with improved cloning methods, gay couples would be able to "have their own babies" and not have to fight conservative opposition to permitting gay adoption.

These and other tricky matters will be discussed this week at an international conference titled "The End of Natural Motherhood" at Oklahoma State University. The organizer of that conference, Scott Gelfand, points out that the invention and application of the artificial womb may raise some odd consequences for working mothers and health insurance.

Because the artificial womb will probably turn out to be a safer environment for the fetus than the one God gave womankind, "health insurance companies could actually insist that women opt for the artificial way." And, Mr. Gelfand helpfully suggests, "women would no longer need maternity leave which employers could become increasingly reluctant to give." Natural pregnancy and childbirth may become a luxury available primarily to the leisured classes.

For the more conspiratorially minded radical feminists, according to this news account, the mere prospect of an artificial womb is already being seen as an invention by male scientists to eliminate the need for women from the planet entirely (while still permitting perpetuation of the species).

But this seems unlikely, as men will never want to take on all the responsibilities of parenting. Most of us seem barely able to handle the minimal requirements of fathering, as conveniently defined by our male-dominated society. And, of course, there are other reasons for keeping women-folk around.

While the concept of disembodied pregnancies will take some getting used to, there are clearly some advantages for tomorrow's young mothers. Maternity clothes will go the way of the hoop skirt. Stretch marks and C-section scars will soon be the stuff of old wives' tales. And hip young parents will be able to let their little fetuses listen to Mozart and other allegedly beneficial prenatal sounds, while the parents are happily in another room listening to "Who Let the Dogs Out."

Woof, woof, woof.


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