Gizmodo reported recently that a team at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia has developed what is, in effect, an Artificial Womb that could help bring extremely premature babies to term. The prototype has been successfully tested on lambs and could be used on humans within the next few years. The technology could also be of help for women who desire children but cannot, for whatever reason, bring them to term. It could also, if refined enough, end the practice of abortion by making it unnecessary. The prospect has some pro-choice advocates up in arms.

The abortion debate

Ever since the Roe v. Wade decision of 1973, abortion has been legal in the United States. The standard has been that abortion is legal for any reason up to the point of viability of the fetus to live outside the womb, currently around 23 weeks. After that point, an abortion can be performed if the life or health of the mother is in danger, very broadly defined in most cases. Ironically, the artificial womb could work on a human fetus at 23 weeks or greater.

People who oppose abortion maintain that an embryo is a human being at the moment of conception and that abortion, in effect, constitutes its state sanctioned murder. People who support a woman’s right to choose an abortion counter that the real issue is a woman’s right to have control over her own body and that the embryo is not human until it reaches viability under the law.

The end of abortion

If the artificial womb being developed in Philadelphia can be made to work on humans, abortion after 23 weeks suddenly becomes unnecessary. If a woman’s life or health becomes endangered by the pregnancy, the fetus could then be transplanted to the artificial womb to be brought to term, and the problem is solved.

If the technology is refined so that even a newly formed embryo can be transplanted and then brought to term, then the argument about a woman’s sovereignty over her body as a justification for an abortion goes out the window. A woman can terminate her pregnancy without killing the embryo, which would then be brought to term.

Can a woman be forced to become a parent if she doesn’t want to?

While one would think that this new technology has the potential to bridge the hitherto intractable divide in the abortion debate, Gizmodo throws up another objection. I. Glenn Cohen, a Harvard Law School bioethicist claims that the technology could be used to “force” women to become a mother if she doesn’t want to be.

However, the objection is laughable on its face. The woman, upon transplanting the embryo, could also sign away her rights to the baby when it comes to term and put him or her up for adoption. The technology would not force anyone to become a parent if they don’t want to be but should satisfy both the pro-life and pro-choice sides of the abortion debate, thus ending one of the most intractable controversies in American history.