Reproductive Cycle, Political Cycle

In “Breeder Reactionaries” (December 1994), free market feminist Wendy McElroy criticized “the ‘feminist’ war on reproductive technologies,” including innovations in birth control methods and refinements of in vitro fertilization techniques. McElroy cited University of Massachusetts women’s studies professor Janice Raymond, whose 1994 book Women As Wombs “disparages the technologies as ‘reproductive abuse,’ a product of the ‘spermatic economy of sex and breeding’ or ‘spermocracy,’ and ‘medicalized pornography.’” 

Control over women’s reproductive lives is again front and center in American politics, although much of the furor this time comes from the right. Republican presidential hopefuls have inveighed against emergency contraception, want to investigate what happens to embryos left over from in vitro fertilization treatments, oppose prenatal testing, and support attempts to legally protect fertilized human eggs as “persons.”

But some left-wing feminists are still in the business of limiting women’s choices. In October 2011, researchers at the New York Stem Cell Foundation Laboratory announced a possible step toward producing transplant tissues based on a new form of research cloning using human eggs. The eggs had been legally purchased, but feminist bioethicist Marcy Darnovsky, noting in a press release that the practice was banned elsewhere, argued that “we should not put the health of young women at risk, especially to get raw materials for such exploratory investigations.” 

McElroy opened her article with a headline about a 59-year-old giving birth to twins using donor eggs. In February 2012, researchers at Harvard University announced that they had discovered egg stem cells and might one day be able to produce an unlimited supply of human eggs as a way to treat infertility. Again, there were feminist objections: “We’re creating as a world one in which it’s increasingly hard for people to have children when they’re young, and then saying, ‘But wait, we have solutions, technology—we can do it when you’re older,’” said City University of New York sociologist Barbara Katz Rothman on NPR. “And that’s the part that disturbs me.” 

In 1994 McElroy wrote, “The main appeal of reproductive technologies is that they give people more choices and more flexibility in a domain previously ruled by biological chance and limits. And some people just don’t like that.” In 2012 breeder reactionaries on both the left and the right still don’t.

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