In the first part of this series, I explained abortion as a conflict of rights between two individuals – the mother and the baby.
In my last installment, I ended with the following:
What I really want is a way out of this mess. What I want is an answer that preserves the self-ownership rights of both parties, and which removes the conflict, and which removes the polarization in society over the issue. What I want is something that shows that the dichotomy – either the mother has all the rights or the baby has all the rights – is false.
In part two of the series, I discussed the example of a couple having consensual sex, and the woman changing her mind during the act. We established that the woman could change her mind, and could demand that her partner stop and leave, but that the woman didn’t hat an unlimited right to simply kill her partner.
Like the case of revocation of consent, it’s important to clarify, during abortion, what the mother’s right of self-ownership allows her to do.
Her right of self-ownership allows her to “kick the baby out” of her body. It does not allow her to kill the baby just for the sake of killing it.
Once the baby is born, the mother can no longer kill it – even if she has changed her mind about wanting to be a mother.
Using today’s medical technology, human embryos can survive outside of a womb for about the first 7-9 days of life. Human babies can survive outside of the womb anytime after 21 weeks gestation. There is every reason to think that the minimum age of viability – the earliest gestational age that a baby can survive outside the womb – will continue to get lower as our technology advances. To give you some sense of just how far medical technology has progressed in our lifetimes, my wife delivered twins that were born at 26 weeks gestation. They were born right here in North Dakota, a rural state with fewer than a million residents. A few short decades ago, babies born at 26 weeks gestation had never survived, anywhere on Earth. Now children born that early can survive even in a small town like Fargo.
Suppose that within the next 50 years, medical technology advances enough that we have a fully artificial womb – a machine that you can insert an embryo into, and it can nurture and develop the baby until it reaches gestational maturity. Suppose also that the medical procedures necessary to “transplant” a baby from a mother’s natural womb into one of these artificial wombs has been perfected.
If we assume these futuristic but entirely plausible capabilities, then an interesting possibility arises that should allow us to honor the rights of both parties.
If a mother decides she doesn’t want to carry her baby, she can have it medically removed. This preserves her right of self ownership.
However, today when she has this procedure done, the baby is killed in the process.
Imagine instead that in the future, the baby survives the process of being removed from the mother, and there is a mechanical womb to place the baby into for the remainder of its development.
In this scenario, the baby also has her rights preserved. The procedure no longer kills the baby.
If this technology were available, it would give us a way out of the conflict – a way to preserve the self-ownership of both the mother and the baby.
It also leads to the possibility of really criminalizing the practice we call abortion today. We may decide that with this future technology, there is simply no excuse to kill a baby when you can simply remove it from the mother, who then declares no further interest in the child.
This idea that the mother has the right to “evict” the baby from her body, but not to actually kill the baby, has a name. The idea is called “Evictionism”, and I first heard of it from the brilliant Walter Block. I encourage you to look for his Youtube videos and essays.
Evictionism is a very satisfying concept, because it means we can preserve the rights of both mother and baby. It is also a conservative approach to the problem of abortion – by working hard on the medical science and engineering problems involved in creating and perfecting the artificial womb, we may be able to create this new social possibility without government help. We may even be able to end abortion without putting people in jail – by giving them a better option.
Evictionism expands the likelihood that babies that would have been aborted will instead be available for adoption by parents or organizations. Given that there are over one million abortions per year in the US, the potential influx of children needing placement could become quite large. Recent data suggests that there are only about 130,000 adoptions of any type in the US per year. However, waiting lists for adoptable healthy infants are extremely long. Redirecting today’s abortions into tomorrow’s adoptive families would be a tremendous blessing for parents currently on waiting lists for infants.
An artificial womb for human development isn’t as fanciful as it might sound. Researchers have already brought a mouse embryo to full gestational age in an artificial womb, and this is significant because of the reproductive similarities between mice and humans. Other successful experiments have been performed on goats.
Artificial womb experiments on human embryos have begun, but ironically, regulations governing embryos and stem cell research mean that artificial womb experiments on human embryos can only last a few days. Regulations designed to protect embryos may in fact delay the availability of artificial womb technology that could save millions of babies.
Evictionism relies on us developing the technology to move a developing baby at any stage of life. We don’t have that capability today, so Evictionism isn’t a satisfying answer for today. But it is the only answer I’m aware of that balances the self ownership rights of both parties – mother and baby.
When artificial wombs arrive, we’re going to need a different set of ideas about law, children, and families. For instance, the Roe v Wade decision that federally protects abortion does not protect abortions after fetal viability. Viability will be meaningless once we have artificial wombs – the embryo will be viable at conception. Additionally, when the mother exercises her right to have the baby removed from her body and placed into an artificial womb, suddenly the issue of the father’s rights and responsibilities bears reconsideration. Today if a mother doesn’t wish to remain pregnant, the father has no real say in the matter. But in a world of artificial wombs, it seems that while a mother can renounce her right to be involved in the child’s life, she cannot prevent the father from retaining his rights to his child. When artificial wombs arrive, we should expect fathers to have increased rights and independence from mothers.
Those of us who wish to see fewer aborted babies in the US have many areas where we can apply our energies. When artificial wombs are ready, we’ll need a more streamlined system for doing infant and fetal adoptions. We can begin working on those changes now, so that we’re in better shape when the technology is ubiquitous.
As I said in the last article – putting young women in jail who want abortions today is probably the least productive thing we could do. I encourage you to try and learn more about artificial womb research, and to see if there are ways you can apply your energy or resources to furthering that work. I encourage you to consider Evictionism as the long term way out of this mess.