Eggsploitation and Abortion Politics

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Eggsploitation,” a new documentary about the perils faced by egg providers in the increasingly globalized and highly lucrative infertility business opens Sunday at the Little Theatre in Rochester. Taking a no-holds-barred approach, “Eggsploitation” exposes what happens to young women who are objectified as sources of eggs by an industry os ay satisfying the ever expanding demand for in vitro fertilization. Although “Eggsploitation” should be a feminist documentary, it is not.

Egg providers have existed in the shadows since the dawn of IVF treatment. Nothing short of shock tactics could properly place the reality of their situation in the public eye. For this reason, “Eggsploitation” is unapologetically over the top. A haunting soundtrack groans in the background as young women tell their tragic stories of being lured by their desire to help others into lives diminished by ongoing medical complications and permanent disability, including os ay and infertility itself. Confronted with the dangers of egg extraction, the conflicts of interests of physicians, and the hyper-commercialized setting in which infertility practice takes place, we are justifiably outraged that what we’re seeing is business as usual for infertility clinics in the United States.

Despite its upsides in bringing eggsploitation to light, “Eggsploitation” makes a fatal misstep by including in its parade of experts those whose agendas are far from feminist. This occurs when the documentary ventures, as did its companion documentary “Lines that Divide,” into the controversial realm of embryonic stem cell research using cloning techniques. Unlike research on embryos left over from in-vitro fertilization, research cloning requires an enormous number of human eggs. Scientists who support research cloning want women who now sell eggs to the infertility industry to be allowed to sell them for research, too. Opponents of research cloning are rightly concerned about eggsploitation, but some of these critics also oppose ALL embryonic stem cell research because they believe an embryo is a human being. Picking sides in this debate is a tricky business because at its root “the stem cell debate is a battle over abortion.”

The role of “Eggsploitation” in this battle is made obvious by the appearance of Josephine Quintavalle of the Christian pro-life organization Comment on Reproductive Ethics (CORE). Although CORE denounces sex selection and research using cloned embryos, the basis for the positions it takes is “absolute respect for the human embryo,” not women’s rights. Although Quintavalle appears to be earnest about protecting young women from eggsploitation, she would unconditionally deny women to the right to an abortion. A little over one month ago, on British national television, Quintavalle was heard to say, “I object to all abortions. If it’s a human life it doesn’t matter at what stage you’re talking about terminating. It shouldn’t happen.

It is dismaying that the Center for Bioethics and Culture, which produced “Eggsploitation,” did not alert its viewers to the anti-feminist viewpoints held by those it chose to present as experts on a topic that requires a feminist sensibility. Perhaps it was an oversight. If so, “Eggsploitation” may unwittingly be playing into the hands of the religious right.

-Richard Storrow

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About Richard Storrow

I have been fascinated by reproductive technology and its implications for law and policy for many years, and have devoted my research agenda to writing on some of the most contentious family policy and bioethics issues that countries around the world currently face. After a series of initial articles written from a family privacy perspective and employing United States constitutional law as an analytical framework, I began writing on assisted reproduction from the ethical perspective that respect for procreative autonomy grows naturally out of societal commitments to equality and justice. This new approach has enabled me to expand the scope and reach of my work by incorporating more foreign sources of law and policy and materials from a wide range of other disciplines, including anthropology, psychology, public health, demography, sociology, biotechnology, women’s studies, literature and medical ethics.
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