Abortions, Conception, and Gender Binary Politics

My following article below was originally published by the Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies (IEET):

At the end of last month, I’d argued that our fixations on gender binaries resulted in a continuing line of cultural patriarchy, i.e. the commonly-held notion that “hitting women, under all conditions, is never okay,” which can be read here. Though, as I look back over the last 24 hours during the heated conflicts of Texas legislators trying to limit, and essentially ban, abortion rights to women, I find myself falling back into gender binary politics. This will not do.

“But only women can get pregnant, B.J., so why even attempt at excluding gender binary in the abortion question?” Simply put, the abortion question is a question of self-determination of one’s own body. Does someone who’s pregnant have the right to choose to conceive the child or abort it? Yes. Does this then necessitate the use of gender in understanding this basic human right? No. Some would argue the contrary, because it’s clearly people with vaginas who are being attacked by those who do not. But then, what of the people with vaginas who aren’t able to conceive any children? Are they any less “woman” in comparison to those who can conceive children? Absolutely not!

Living in the 21st century also brings up other contradictions in the commonly-held belief that children can only be conceived via sexual relations between a male and female. The most primitive contradiction being Sperm Banks, which allow men to donate their sperm to women who wish to conceive children without doing so via sex. There’s a growing population of couples who have surrogate women to conceive a child for them, and not the woman herself. The next contradiction is what is known as In vitro fertilization (IVF), in which couples – whether they be infertile, same-sex couples, etc. – go through a process in which donated sperm is used to help fertilize a woman’s extracted ovum, monitored in a lab (ergo “test-tube babies”), and then transferred into the patient’s uterus to achieve a successful pregnancy. In fact, a little over a year go, a couple known as the Haleys decided to take advantage of the future and used the crowdfunding website Indiegogo to help fund their IVF campaign. They asked for $5,000 to help, in which the global community responded by donating over $8,000! So not only do we have a child who was born via IVF, but a child that was conceived via the efforts of an infertile couple and over 130 donors! I predict awkward family reunions.

These are all examples of how children can be conceived of today, all of which completely redefine both the means of reproduction and the status of “family”. But then, do we stop there? I see no reason why. In fact, many scientists today see no reason why either. Two scientists in particular, Dr. Shinya Yamanaka and John B. Gurdon, had won the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine 2012 last year for their scientific discovery that “mature, specialised cells can be reprogrammed to become immature cells capable of developing into all tissues of the body.” These immature stem cells are known as pluripotent cells.

“But B.J., how is this even relevant to the topic at hand?” The relevancy was discovered two years ago when Japanese scientists were able to officially develop artificial sperm cells using stem cells in mice. They were able to repeat the process using pluripotent cells, like skin cells. Couple this with Yamanaka and Gurdon’s discovery that we can reprogram old stem cells back into younger pluripotent cells, and you have one of the most revolutionary new means of child conception. All that child would need is a donated stem cell and a donated ovum to be created. Can you imagine the child’s description of “mother” and “father” in school? “Yes, my mommy is Jane from up state, and my daddy is the next door neighbor’s knee cap.” Anyone else getting a hint of the Judeo-Christian story of Adam donating his rib to create Eve?

Should we stop there? What about cloning? Obviously this is still a very controversial topic in itself. Questions of “Could we clone a human?” is pretty much already answered with a resounding ‘Yes!’, but then questions of “Should we clone a human?” is still being debated widely throughout the world. I’m of the opinion that cloning should be limited to cloning organs, near-extinct species, and even already-extinct species (i.e. Woolly Mammoth) if possible. But then, what of infertile people? Should they attain the right to clone themselves in order to conceive a child? In what way is this essentially any different from conceiving children “naturally” (naturally=non-cloning)?

One of my favorite TV shows, Numb3rs, went into this very topic on Episode 5 of Season 6, “Hydra”. In the show the detectives discover that a missing little girl they’re looking into is actually a clone! As a result of this discovery, a revealing conversation is then struck between detectives David Sinclair and Colby Granger:

David Sinclair: “This is everything.”
Colby Granger: “Yeah. If you told me five years ago I’d be trying to recover a clone…”
David: “And that she’d be a little kid. You know, it’s kind of anticlimactic. It’s like a new version of In vitro fertilization, right?
Colby: “I mean, what happens when this becomes mainstream? People just wanna clone themselves and call it a do-over?”
David: “Well, people already do that. It’s called having kids.”

My thoughts exactly. The simple act of cloning humans without any rules or regulations certainly would result in a unstable, unethical market of cloning for whatever purposes. A hot new sci-fi television series known as Orphan Black goes into this very scenario, in which a batch of similar clones are created, only to then be hunted down one-by-one by a religious fanatic. But then, if regulated properly, I see no reason why any infertile parent, whatever gender binary they adhere to, shouldn’t be allowed to clone themselves in order to conceive a child.

Now that we’ve established the fact that child conception is no longer as it was several decades ago – that being the family dynamic has been completely re-written, the means of conception has been completely re-written, and the inclusion of certain gender binaries for said conception has been completely re-written – we can now go into the question of gender itself. This was, after all, the entire basis of this being written here. And to start off, I’d like to introduce a certain person named Thomas Beatie, aka: the ‘Pregnant Man’.

Thomas Beatie, born Tracy LaGondino, is a transgender male who became widely popular when he got pregnant in 2007 via artificial insemination, using cryogenic donated sperm due to his wife being infertile. His first pregnancy resulted in what is known as an ectopic pregnancy (conceiving triplets). Though, unfortunately, he lost all three fetuses during an emergency surgery. Fortunately, though, despite having lost all three fetuses, he’s since conceived three healthy children. Today, Thomas Beatie and his wife are trying to file for divorce, but in an unexpected turn of events, the judge ruling over their divorce filing is refusing to recognize their marriage of 2003. As a result, seeing as how this puts their children in danger, and completely spits in the face of every transgender person who’s still trying to fight for basic human rights, both Thomas and his wife are fighting back against the ruling.

The judge’s ruling is also in conflict with recognizing Thomas as a legally established male, who also happened to have gotten pregnant. It raises the question for LGBTQ activists if we should join the judge in his ruling that a man cannot conceive children, thus Thomas isn’t to be considered male, or if we should join in solidarity with Thomas in declaring that a person’s gender binary is an irrelevancy regarding child conception? If you have a heart (metaphorically speaking, that is), then the latter should be your obvious choice!

Before now, we considered pregnancy as being an act in which women can only achieve, due to certain biological differences between the gender binaries of male and female. But then, when a person chooses to change their gender, and is then legally recognized as that gender, the connection between pregnancy and female gender binary becomes distorted, if not completely abolished. In fact, it would paint the picture of gender not being as absolute, or as static, as it’s currently perceived. Rather it paints the picture of gender varying in different biological transformations, with the ability of each individual to change from one to the other as according to their preference. Infertility is one of those biological facets which affect both the male and female gender binary. These people are unable to choose whether to have a child or not using the most natural means of conception. But with the help of new technologies, infertility is no longer an unavoidable barrier to conceiving a child. Sexual activity is no longer necessary either in conceiving a child. Meaning the role of gender binaries in the conception of a child is completely irrelevant.

The questions that arise when pregnant and how one answers them, though, like every other decision of one’s body, is up to the individual and the individual alone. If someone is pregnant, whether they be a legally established male or female, they’re the ultimate deciders in what happens with the fetus – to be born or aborted – just as it was their decision in how said child was conceived – naturally, donated sperm, In vitro, artificially fertilized, or cloned. The question of gender no longer necessitates an answer. Anyone who tries telling a person what they should or shouldn’t do with their body, whether it be forced birth or forced abortion, should be vehemently opposed!

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