Fetal Adoption

Robert A. Freitas Jr.

The Humanist 40(May/June 1980):22-23

Notes: This web version is derived from an earlier draft of the paper and may possibly differ in some substantial aspects from the final published paper. Also, this work long predates the author's recent work in nanotechnology and nanomedicine -- technologies which will make the "fetal adoption" proposal (and other related reproductive technology) even more plausible.


A new technology may make anachronisms of adoption agencies and abortion clinics.

The ethical problem of abortion has been the subject of heated debate for many years, especially since the controversial Roe v. Wade (1973) [also also] Supreme Court ruling and the recent flap over federally funded abortions. The conflict is rich in content and charged with emotion, including themes of “us versus them,” a war of verbal propaganda (e.g., “pro-choice” vs. “anti-life”?), legal questions and social policy issues, political posturing, and timeless philosophical inquiries (e.g., “What is Man?”).

There is, however, a technological solution to the problem of abortion ethics which has received insufficient attention in the literature: fetal adoption.

The birth of the world’s first “test tube” baby in Oldham, England in 1978 demonstrates that medical science already has the ability to bring safely through pregnancy a human ovum fertilized in vitro (outside the body). Fertilized ovum transplants into female host animals have been utilized commercially for many years, and the modern practice of human surrogate mothers (in vivo fertilization) is well-known. Progress at the forefront of current medical research suggests that human fetal transplantation and full-term in vitro gestation may become technological feasible by the end of the century.

Assuming these techniques are available, unwillingly pregnant women have an alternative to feticide or unwanted childbirth. The reluctant prospective mother simply visits the local Fetal Adoption Clinic, undergoes surgery for removal of her viable fetus, signs legal documents, and exits a free woman. At the same time, the developing embryo is preserved. Fetuses removed during the first trimester are transplanted into the appropriately-prepared uterus of a surrogate or infertile adoptive mother and carried to term in the usual manner. Second trimester fetuses are nurtured in warm, organic artificial wombs until the third trimester, when conventional modern incubation techniques can be brought into play. Fetuses taken during the third trimester are transferred directly to the incubator, an existing medical technology often used to save the lives of infants born up to three months premature.

Fetal Adoption Centers would become guardians of life.

The elegance of this scheme is evident in its ability to placate both proponents and opponents of abortion. Pro-choicers under a system of fetal adoption would never be forced unwillingly to suffer pregnancy or to bear an unwanted child. A woman must retain full legal control of her own body and should be free to surrender her fetus for adoption at any time during gestation. On the other hand, pro-lifers would be satisfied because no “human being” (here defined arguendo as a “fertilized or developing human embryo”) is ever put to death. Healthy newborn babies placed for adoption are in very short supply, so there would be no problem finding an adequate number of adoptive or surrogate parents to absorb the surplus nonaborted infant population.

Fetal Adoption Centers would offer free educational programs on contraception and human reproduction, pregnancy and childbirth, parenting, and child psychology. These public centers will also distribute a wide variety of free materials and services, including birth control devices, annual pelvic examination, and pregnancy tests furnished with no questions asked. Centers would become guardians of life, in stark contrast to modern abortion clinics, emotionally characterized by pro-life advocates as “death factories.” Furthermore, a global program of family planning plus fetal transplantation is unlikely to aggravate the world population problem. Experience has shown that people given both the knowledge and the means of birth control usually choose voluntarily to reduce the number of offspring to near the replacement level.

Funding for a national network of Fetal Adoption Centers would come partly from sources which today support adoption agencies and abortion clinics (anachronisms in an era of fetal transplantation technology) and partly from new federal and state “Feticare” programs designed primarily to assist indigent women. Additional funding will issue from numerous pro-life church, community, and fraternal organizations that today lobby and protest against abortion but would be willing to help “pay for life,” and from various pro-choice and feminist groups able to divert their abortion-support monies to “pay for liberty.” Humanitarian funding may also come from private and international sources.

A few may object to fetal transplantation and adoption on the religious or moral grounds that such programs may encourage promiscuity and premarital sex among the young. However, it is often these same individuals who are heard to assert that inescapable pregnancy is the proper “punishment” for illicit sexual activity, a moral position that overlooks three important factors:

(1) A ban on fetal adoption denies the technological option to unwillingly pregnant married couples, forcing them to choose between two equally unwelcome alternatives – feticide or unwanted childbirth;

(2) The incidence of teenage pregnancy is high in all jurisdictions regardless of whether legal abortions are easy or difficult to obtain, suggesting that the expression of sexuality among the young is predominantly a sociocultural phenomenon little affected by the withholding of available medical technology; and

(3) The birth of an unwanted child to unwilling or irresponsible parents is a calamity for the parents but a catastrophe for society, which decades later must deal with the products of parental ignorance, neglect, and abuse.


Robert A. Freitas Jr. has degrees in law, physics, and psychology. His book Lobbying for Space (1978) is a political-action handbook. He is readying a book on the ethics of interspecies contact. His articles and research papers have appeared in Omni, Mercury, Analog, Spaceflight, and the Journal of the British Interplanetary Society.


Last updated 27 May 2003