The long term implications for society now coming to light through the scientific advances in reproductive technology are forcing some radical feminists to re-examine their basic principle of individual choice as a philosophical cornerstone.

Maureen McTeer, who was fired as a member of the Royal Commission on Reproductive Technologies, was the first to indicate that the insistence on individual rights – so important in shaping the public’s opinion on abortion- causes trouble when surrogate motherhood or genetic engineering become reality and not science fiction.

Maureen McTeer

In her 1992 pamphlet, The Tangled Womb, McTeer sounded like a pro-lifer when she wrote that pre-natal diagnosis and sex-selection techniques discriminate against disabled and “wrong-sex” babies. She argued that Canadians were not even questioning the morality or immorality of scientists creating and experimenting on human life. She asked whether the desire of an infertile woman to have a child should be translated into a broad-based “right-to-procreate.” The final report of the Royal Commission proves McTeer’s fears were valid: its emphasis is on regulating the industry, not on putting it out of business. Its recommendation that a healthy woman without a male partner should have access to artificial insemination would seem to me a roundabout way of trying to establish a right to procreate.

The radical feminist and pro-life movements share some common ground when it comes to reproductive technology. The dividing line, naturally, is our sharply opposed views on abortion. The pro-life position on reproductive technologies stems from our view of the sanctity of human life and is, therefore, completely logical. The radical feminist stand on individual choice on abortion , however, makes a logical stand on reproductive technologies impossible. But, just as Maureen McTeer’s pamphlet showed cracks appearing, a recently-published anthology of feminist essays indicates a yawning chasm.

Abandoning choice

In Misconceptions, former NAC president Judy Rebick states that the abortion movement can no longer call itself “pro-choice.” Rebick admits that the “choice” slogan was key in swaying public opinion, allowing the Maureen McTeer s (those who would not “personally” choose an abortion but would not oppose another’s choice) to jump on the bandwagon. She now confesses what we have known all along; freedom of choice on abortion only ever applied to an elite minority of women. Obviously, Rebick now feels the abortion battle is won because otherwise she would not dare to state in print:
“In the abortion fight, many women of colour, poor women and women with disabilities have argued that the choice slogan excluded them. They support abortion rights but don’t feel that they really have freedom of choice. A poor black woman who decides on an abortion may do so because she simply cannot afford to feed another child, not because she doesn’t want to have one. O much for choice.”

This astonishing admission is a consequence of NAC’s call for a moratorium on new IVF clinics and a ban on surrogacy which, Rebick points out, caused the media to ask “Why is NAC for choice in deciding not to have children but against choice in deciding to have children?” Rebick answers that: “…in the case of IVF the choice of an individual woman could be detrimental to women as a group and that we to look at the impact of IVF on the future of women’s equality and reproduction and not just on the individual life of the woman. Some pro-choice activists said that this argument was a slippery slope that could lead to an anti-choice position on abortion as well. While I rejected that argument at the time, I think it has some merit.”

It certainly does have merit, but only for those who think logically and consistently. Rebick is not yet at this point: she still supports abortion. But we can hope that some honesty will surface now, and that others will join her in admitting they are for abortion, instead of hiding behind “choice.”

Sooner or later people are just going to have to face the simple truth that if human beings can be created in test tubes then the entities created naturally through sexual intercourse are also human beings in need of our protection. What a revolutionary notion!