On the Backs of Women

by Gail Quinn

June 21, 2002

We hear repeatedly that scientists must be allowed to clone and conduct harmful experiments on human embryos. Unless such research is allowed, it is said, cures for many deadly diseases will never be found. This message seems to come from every corner–from Senator Ted Kennedy, actor Christopher Reeve and even Nobel laureates.

Forget the moment that these claims are simply wrong. Not one therapeutic benefit has come from such research; every beneficial result has come from morally acceptable adult stem cell research. Leave aside too the serious moral and ethical problems. Instead, focus on another aspect –the fact that cloning would exploit women on a massive scale.

It is estimated that 133.9 million Americans suffer from diseases some claim may be helped by cloning. If just 10 percent were eligible for therapies derived from human cloning, the potential patient pool would 13.4 million people. To provide genetically matched material to treat such numbers, one would need at least 670 million eggs to clone. Where would the eggs come from? Well, if each female donor provided 10 eggs, 67 million women donors would be needed. Each would be subjected to high levels of hormonal stimulation, followed by laproscopic surgery. Senator Mary Landreiu (D-LA) put it rather succinctly: women would simply become egg factories.

Women also bear the burden regarding family planning. Many American women take birth control pills or other forms of hormonal contraceptives, or they undergo sterilization, a permanent and terrible choice (men eschew vasectomy). Yet, Natural Family Planning, a completely healthy alternative involving the cooperative effort of husband and wife, is often dismissed out of hand. The message? Let women take the risks.

When an unintended pregnancy occurs, the solution: Leave the woman to bear and raise the child alone, or let her subject herself to the abortionist's curette, and if she's lucky, she'll come away physically intact. If she suffers emotionally, psychologically, spiritually, the message: "Get over it."

Partial-birth abortion (where a child is partially delivered, then killed before being completely born), poses serious risks to a woman. She risks injury and hemorrhaging when the child's skull is pierced by a sharp instrument while lodged in the birth canal. She faces substantial risks of future infertility, including an inability to carry a baby to term. Knowing of such concerns, Congress and a majority of states passed laws to ban the practice. Yet the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2000 that partial-birth abortion must be permitted to serve a woman's health. As if something that poses terrible health risks for a woman could ever be required to preserve her health. Again, the risks and the ordeal are placed on the backs of women.

Women deserve much better. Wouldn't it be terrific if women banded together to say: "We are not research subjects. We are not egg factories. We are human beings deserving of respect and dignity. We expect to be treated that way."

Gail Quinn is Executive Director of the Secretariat for Pro-Life Activities, U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, Washington, D.C.