Organized feminist lobbying is widely credited as the moving force behind the federal government’s decision to organize a Royal Commission to examine the urgent ethical issues raised by artificial reproductive technology. While pro-life leaders are generally supportive of the idea of such a Commission, they are con-corned that the Commission could be manipulated to reflect only the feminist agenda, resulting in yet one more nail in the coffin of the pre-born child.
Feminist opposition to artificial reproduction became coordinated in 1978 when the “Coalition for a Royal Commission on New Reproductive Technologies” was formed. Headed by Dr. Margrit Eichler, a sociologist at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education in Toronto, the group is endorsed by such organizations as the Natural Action Committee of the Status of Women (NAC), the Canadian Abortion Rights Action League (CARAL), the Canadian Advisory Council on the Status of Women, as well as provincial advisory councils on women and regional women’s health groups.
The Coalition is likely to be very influential in the choice of Commission members. In the summer 1988 edition of Healthsharing, a feminist quarterly, the Coalition sated that it believes the Commission must be “comprised of a majority of women committed to women’s issues.” It opposes having either a doctor or a lawyer head the Commission, “as these professions have the most to gain from advancement of the new reproductive technologies.” Former Liberal Health Minister Monique Begin “would fit the bill very nicely” as Commission chairman, said Eichler recently. Begin, of course, has a solid pro-abortion record, as does Maureen McTeer, another name going forward to head the enquiry.
The Coalition is alarmed that the Commission may pose “an inherent risk” to women as it studies issues “directly affecting women’s control over our own bodies.” It warns that any government initiatives may “ignore and further exploit women.” It will, therefore, put pressure on to ensure that only people acceptable to the feminist ideology are appointed to the Commission.
Feminist thinking on artificial reproduction is somewhat incoherent. On the one hand, there is fear that the new technologies exploit women who are being manipulated by the “male-dominated” medical profession, which is not seen as helping women but using them in a power-hungry grab for professional glory. On the other hand, much of the feminist writing on the issues shows a bewildering puzzle that many women still show a desire to have children. Underlying the debate is a fear that regulation of these technologies may impinge on abortion. Medical research on reproduction is consistently demonstrating the humanity of the pre-born child, under-mining the argument that abortion is an issue of women’s rights to control over their own bodies.
An editorial in the Fall 1985 issue of Healthsharing showed the confusion:
“Our collective was disturbed by possible health hazards of the unproven and potentially unsafe technologies addressed in this issue. Even so, our overwhelming concern…is with the issue of control. Clearly, the new reproductive technology is firmly in the hands of a sophisticated and powerful group in our society – a scientific elite whose interests have rarely mirrored our own. And yet, women who want to become pregnant are lining up to make use of that technology, willing to hand over their reproductive abilities to modern medicine.
“Feminists are seeking to increase the joy and social power women can experience through birth and child-nurturing by reclaiming women’s control of these events. By pursuing reproductive technologies, women risk losing the right to make the decision to reproduce. Does this loss of control outweigh the individual benefits of becoming pregnant and bearing children?”
A pro-life approach to artificial reproduction, on the other hand, is much more defined. While it shares a concern that these technologies may involve long-term health hazards to women, it is also concerned with what effects these technologies will have not only on the men, women and children most directly affected but also on society as a whole. The pro-life movement is completely opposed to the use of embryos and fetuses for experimental purposes and opposed to genetic counseling and screening when it is used to abort the disabled. For some years now, Alliance for Life, the national organization for pro-life educational groups, has had a policy calling for a moratorium on in vitro fertilization. Alliance calls this an “unjustifiable experiment on human lives,” pointing out that in this procedure many embryos are conceived and then killed.