One of the most interesting facets of the abortion debate is that despite all we know about pregnancy, no clear consensus exists on exactly when life begins. The range of theories is staggering. Some people would imagine that life begins at conception, because indeed this is the first point when a truly unique set of DNA is created in a fertilized egg. Yet recognizing that 60-80% of fertilized eggs are naturally discarded by the body, it is commonly understood in the medical world that a pregnancy begins with an egg's implantation into the uterine wall. Other arguments persist as well, some would contend that an individual’s life really begins when the embryo can no longer undergo twinning, or when the heart first beats, or when the first neural tissue appears, when a certain kind of brain activity appears, when an unborn baby can first live outside the mother, or when birth actually occurs and the infant takes its first breath. Yet all of these events are important milestones in an otherwise very gray and gradual process. Somewhere in the course of all things, basic cells reconfigure the atoms from their environment and hopefully become a fully functioning (albeit helpless) human being. So when exactly does human life begin in all of this? Maybe it doesn’t matter.
The two sides of the abortion camp seem to be fixated on this issue. Pro-life proponents focus on emphasizing the human features of the unborn. Their arguments are rooted in the idea that it is unethical to take the life of a person, especially one considered so blameless and innocent. Pro-choice advocates typically emphasize the lack of fully human features, particularly early in pregnancy. An embryo indeed cannot feel or think, has no heartbeat, no brain, can be split endlessly to become twins and triplets, and can even be grown into simple placental tissue, which no one would recognize as an individual. At certain earlier stages, they contend that the termination a pregnancy is not ending a life at all. Recognizing whether or not a biological entity qualifies as “human” seems important, because the reality is both sides of the issue share a common goal: no sane person wants to willingly end innocent human lives.
So we’ve reached an impasse, which grows in complexity as pro-lifers literally believe murder is being committed when a woman has an abortion. Some particularly religious camps will go further and decry non-procreative sex as selfish, and sex outside of marriage as immoral. A particularly prevalent yet flawed argument is that once a women has sex, she’s already consented to the possibility of pregnancy. Pro-choicers feel as if their rights as stewards of their own body are being encroached upon. They view sex between two consenting adults as a private issue, completely within their rights to explore, a right untouchable by any religious or legal body. Pregnancy however, at some point no longer involves just two people.
Having a child is a life changing experience, and it can become especially concerning when it is completely unplanned. Potential Mothers (and Fathers) find themselves at a crossroads between careers, reputations, life plans, and suddenly taking care of kids. When parents have kids they can’t take care of, they're more likely to need state assistance, and there's even more to consider when it’s a single and/or underage mother. Such challenging issues often find easy solutions on paper. What if everyone simply used contraception? What if everyone simply waited until marriage to have sex? What if abortion were outlawed and mothers were required to continue their pregnancies under law? But in reality such simplistic answers fall apart. Contraception can fail, and not everyone has the access or education to use it properly. Abstinence is not embraced by everyone, and it’s entirely possible (and legal) for adults to have healthy non-procreative sex without a marriage or the possibility of children. But worst of all, no child deserves to grow up in a household where the parents have no capacity to properly care for them.
One possible solution may involve a technology that isn’t perfected yet. Related to the idea put forth in “A Brave New World," imagine if you will an artificial womb. It’s not such a far-fetched concept. The developing human needs a definitive nutrient requirement of fats, carbohydrates, and proteins, vitamins and minerals as well as oxygen. Importantly, every fetus has its own self-sufficient blood supply. the real “connecting point” between it and the outside world is the umbilical cord. If a suitable membrane were found that could deliver oxygen and nutrients through this route, life would be sustained. Placed in a temperature controlled, light shielded, appropriately sized container, birth would be inevitable.
Imagine the implications of such a machine. If a mother finds herself pregnant and unable to care for the child, she would have several options. Perhaps the father or someone else capable of raising a child would want to adopt the unborn fetus. The mother could also simply give it to the state. The state would fund centers (likely within hospitals) that house rows upon rows of these devices. Instead of terminating her pregnancy with an abortion she could choose to simply give it up for adoption early. The fetus would be transferred from her to the device and the pregnancy would continue uninhibited. When the gestational age is reached, the baby would simply and effortlessly be released from the artificial womb in a process free from complications seen in natural births. The child would be born an orphan, put in the care of the state just as other orphans are. Who would pay for all this anyway? An unwanted pregnancy would not be entirely consequence free. The cost might be broken up between taxes, the original parents, plus insurance of course, but perhaps with actual abortions no longer needed, the members of the pro-life and pro-choice camps that have been so adamantly donating to their cause could consider donating to such a worthy life-sustaining artificial womb program instead…or better yet, a program that increases access to contraception and sex education.
But the reality of such a technology would be rather marvelous; no unwanted pregnancy would have to end in death. Simultaneously, no parents would suddenly be faced with caring for children they’re not ready for. Both sides would get what they're fighting for at once, and since taxpayer costs for such an operation would be a serious issue…the real focus could be turned to preventing unwanted pregnancies in the first place.