Wombs in Revolt

Claire Horn in Avidly:

In the 1970s, Shulamith Firestone wrotethe end goal of feminist revolution must be […] not just the elimination of male privilege but of the sex distinction itself […] The reproduction of the species by one sex for the benefit of both would be replaced by (or at least the option of) artificial reproduction: children would be born to both sexes equally.” This hopeful if unsettling vision of the artificial womb entices me, a 1970s harbinger of the “gender is over” rallying cry. Firestone’s utopian manifesto, penned in a world where birth control and in vitro fertilisation were new to the reproductive conversation, was buoyed by its relative improbability. Maybe Firestone really believed that the new reproductive technologies of her era heralded the arrival of ectogenesis sometime after. More likely it was the stuff of fantasy, provocatively introduced to challenge readers to reconsider the status quo.

But what once felt like fantasy seems increasingly more real. A human pregnancy is 40 weeks of gestation, with any baby born before 37 weeks considered preterm. The point at which a human fetus can survive outside the mother’s womb (otherwise known as “fetal viability”) sat around 28 weeks of gestation when Roe v. Wade was handed down almost exactly forty-five years ago. Today, following progress in neonatal intensive care technologies, viability in most wealthy countries is somewhere between 22 and 26 weeks, depending on the resources available in a given area and hospital. The health of babies born before 28 weeks remains precarious. In April of 2016, however, a group of scientists in Philadelphia developed a partial artificial womb that may allow for fetuses born at the cusp of viability (22-23 weeks) to gestate to term outside the mother’s body. Trialed with lamb fetuses at the equivalent of 22-24 human weeks of gestation, the technology, dubbed the “Biobag”, mimics the conditions of a fetus in utero, surrounding it with artificial amniotic fluid. If the Biobag is successful, almost half of a fetus’s gestation might be able to occur outside the womb. In August, scientists in Australia replicated the experiment, with the unnerving addition of dubbing the technology “ex-vivo uterine environment,” or EVE.

The crux of Firestone’s utopia is the idea of gender becoming essentially irrelevant for building families.  Since the Supreme Court heard Obergefell and granted same-sex couples the right to marry, equal acknowledgement of gay and lesbian couples as legal paThe crux of Firestone’s utopia is the idea of gender as essentially irrelevant for building familiesents should follow.

More here.