Imagine a near-future where we have developed artificial womb and utilization of it over traditional pregnancy has become a viable option.

use of artificial wombs drastically lower the risk of miscarriages (which, for those that don't know, are actually surprisingly common, though most happen so early in pregnancy so that those not actively trying to conceive never know they miscarried), as well as lowering the risk of non-genetic birth defects. The artificial wombs protect mothers from health risks, and general displeasure, of pregnancy as well.

The process is similar to IVF process of today to retrieve the eggs and fertilize them, prior to placing them in the womb; though an egg placed in the womb is far more likely to grow then implanted eggs from IVF. However, the process is less costly then modern IVF. Only a few eggs are required, so no medication more difficult then clomid is required pre-retrieval; and the entire retrieval process has been made far less difficult/painful/expensive.

In total the artificial womb approach is only about a 500-1,000 dollars ore expensive then pregnancy. However, pregnancy costs are spread out across an entire pregnancy, so artificial wombs require a bit more of an upfront expense. (no doubt some loan companies exist to help with this, for a modest interest fee. Hopefully they don't make you put your first born son up as collateral...) In addition human nature is odd, people may not realize how much they spend for a pregnancy, and thus the wombs may seem more expensive because the costs are obvious; while the costs of traditional pregnancy, for example increase expenses on food (which alone adds up to a few thousand dollars over nine months), and constant medical visits, are less obvious.

Lets also assume that in this world birth control (particularly female birth control techniques) are more effective, and have gotten to be more common (My personal belief is that much of the cultural resistance to birth control is dropping fast and within a generation or two birth control will be more common, started at younger ages, and perhaps even provided by the government since birth control expenses are far less then the expense of an unplanned pregnancy; regardless of your belief in this please presume that for this question). Thus unplanned pregnancies are far less common, though still occur.

Lets go further, and assume that some forms of infertility are easily addressed this way (as gestational surrogates are used today, but a gestational surrogate costs 20,000+ where as an artificial womb is barely more expensive then carrying on your own).

In addition single fathers be choice become far more possible as well. There would be a (larger) egg donor community as well, due mostly due to the easier approach of withdrawing eggs. In fact those that have a pregnancy via artifical womb have the option to 'sell' extra eggs withdrawn for the pregnancy this well for small, but decent, reduction of the procedure costs; though many women do not take this option for the same reason women of today often are not interested in the idea of egg donation. Due to the difficulty of withdrawing eggs, the limited number of pregnancy you can get form a egg withdrawal or donated eggs, and most importantly the fact that many women will not be comfortable with donating eggs, eggs will still be somewhat expensive, but not as prohibitively as they are now. In fact it will be about as hard/expensive for a man to be a single father as it is right now for a women to become a single mother with bank sperm (maybe just a tad more expensive).

My question is, how will culture adapt to this sort of change? What will societal norms and beliefs be in such a culture? How will people look at single parents now that they are more likely to be by choice then accident (though of course accident is still common, as are single parents due to divorce or death of partner). How much will people cling to the old fashion ways, despite the new ways being safer for mother and child? What will culture think of single fathers by choice, any different then single mothers by choice? Will there be prejudice against those that have children in vitro vs in vivo? Will there be any new cultural trends or technological options utilization of this technology (random example, sex choice of children may become more common if your already doing IVF?)

I may ask a separate question about how the adoption will go (ie, who will resist it, what cultural turmoil will go on while it is first being adopted), depending on the results of this question. Thus, for now, my focus of interest is simply on how it will be treated once some of the original culture shock of the option is over and it's at least as available an option as bank sperm now. I'm more then happy to hear speculation about earlier culture shock, but since I may be focusing on that area exclusively later I don't want to waste too much of the answers time repeating themselves :)

  • $\begingroup$ This is a wonderful wonderful question but unless you narrow it down very quickly it's going to be closed as too-broad. I could write an entire answer just on how US Christian Conservatives might respond to a disconnect between a woman and the womb. $\endgroup$ – Green Aug 7 '15 at 15:22
  • $\begingroup$ Heck, we could make this into one of the fortnightly challenges. There's so very much to explore here. $\endgroup$ – Green Aug 7 '15 at 15:25

The societal and cultural effects of this type of artificial womb would be staggering. There is so much to dig into here, but I’ll try to touch on the biggest potentials for upheaval.

Women in Society

This would be an enormous game changer for women. Pregnancy as a process is very taxing on the body and requires more than a few changes to lifestyle for the duration. Natural pregnancy is also bound to the window of fertility, which can create significant anxiety and challenges for women who want to be competitive in their careers. Complicating matters further, waiting later into life to go through pregnancy greatly increases the risk to both child and mother. An effective artificial womb solves almost all of these problems in one fell swoop.

By taking their body and natural fertility out of the equation, women can store eggs at a young age and comfortably postpone having children until the right time in their life. This alone is likely to allow more women to storm competitive sectors of the workforce. Without needing to bear the child and endure recovery, maternity and paternity leave will become much more similar and more focused on giving parents time to adjust to their new lives and care for the newborn. Equality in the workplace will very likely see a major boost (though still affected by lingering cultural discrimination).

At a more individual level, being able to avoid the “hassle” of pregnancy will be tremendously appealing to many women. Removing the discomfort would seem like a dream come true, but being able to continue living your normal lifestyle (enjoying alcohol and other substances, maintaining your preferred diet, etc) without danger to the child is also a great bonus. It makes the experience of pregnancy for women almost identical to the experience for men.

On the other hand, this could further stigmatize pregnant working women. It may be seen as a sign of poor planning, financial irresponsibility, or an indicator of your (possibly controversial) personal beliefs.

Inequality Gap

Using the artificial womb requires planning, commitment, and money. These three things all vary greatly across the economic spectrum and could easily cause a gap in usage of this technology even among people who favor the concept. Educated women who favor birth control will be more likely to leverage the artificial womb, while less educated people more prone to accidental pregnancy may not have the opportunity to use it. Depending on the health benefits for both mother and child, this could create a more pronounced divide between the wealthy and the poor.

Untold Volumes of Research

The biological and psychological implications of this artificial womb would concern researchers for a very long time. Studies would span decades, and the risks of something so different could be frightening.

Without carrying the child around throughout pregnancy, how will the mother’s relationship with a child be affected after birth? How much time would the parents spend with the child throughout pregnancy? Would parents be prepared for the child after being so distant during pregnancy? By essentially removing the biological process of pregnancy from the cultural equation, you could have a huge host of complications in families that use this option.

The biological implications on the mother also warrant consideration. Pregnancy has many effects on the body to help the mother care for a newborn child — particularly breastfeeding. Removal of that process will require some significant compensation, which could further impact the health of the child.

Even more interesting is the possible effects on the child. In an artificial womb the environment and nutrients can be very carefully controlled throughout the entire pregnancy. This could very well lead to generally healthier children using this technique, and could be a remarkable opportunity for research around genetic modifications to occur. The potential for labs to grow humans for testing is sure to be a terrifying discussion.

The Hold Outs

To put it lightly, the existence of an artificial womb would cause a firestorm in many religious communities. It would be seen as unnatural and an affront to many deeply held beliefs across religions. It is very likely that people who adhere closely to religions, or value their place in their religious communities, would continue to endure traditional pregnancy. As popularity of the artificial womb grows, it’s even possible that imagery of pregnancy would take on a more holy significance for some.

It won’t only be religious groups clinging to traditional pregnancy. There will be enormous and lingering skepticism about circumventing biology so severely, likely aided by the flurry of research and academic arguments considered earlier. Some women will simply prefer to do it “the natural way”. For many, those nine months of carrying the child may feel like a vital part of the process.

While prejudice toward families using the artificial womb is likely, it will fortunately not always be easy to know. Parents are likely to receive the worst of the assault, since usage of the womb will be most visible when a clearly non-pregnant woman suddenly has a child. Children will have an easier time hiding which type of birth they were throughout their lives, though that won’t stop fights from arising on the playground. Early on, it may be an insult to say that someone was born from an artificial womb. As adoption of the technique increases, the vitriol may go the other way.

Other Considerations

Accidental pregnancy could become a more traumatic problem, especially when the parents intended to use the artificial womb (or if they already have a child being raised in one!). Abortion might become more common in these situations, particularly as the difficulties of childbirth stop seeming like a natural life obstacle and seem more avoidable.

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    $\begingroup$ I did a survey of my friends who are mothers and only one of them said she would like her children without having to be pregnant. Many cited intimate bonding experiences with their children before birth or pregnancy as a learning/growing experience. Granted, these are all rather conservative women but I suspect that many liberal minded women would think the same way. The Hold Outs group may be larger than you suspect. (It was certainly larger than I thought it would be.) $\endgroup$ – Green Sep 3 '15 at 13:50

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