Upholding Women's Autonomy in Pregnancy: Responding to the Challenges of New Reproductive Technologies

  • Dunja Begovic

Student thesis: Phd


This thesis examines how certain innovations in reproductive technology should be conceptualised and regulated to ensure the autonomy of pregnant women is upheld. In the reproductive ethics literature, there is a central tension between seeing new reproductive choices as empowering and autonomy-enhancing, and as potential threats to the agency and liberty of pregnant women. Recognising that such choices are always made within a particular social, economic and political context, the thesis approaches these issues by looking carefully at the particular circumstances of the reproductive technologies under examination (namely, prenatal testing, maternal-fetal surgery, and gestational surrogacy), and analysing how challenges to women's autonomy would best be met in each case. The focus on ethical issues occurring during pregnancy, rather than technologies enabling conception, adds an additional layer of complexity, as the thesis recognises that pregnant women's choices are inevitably informed by the perception of the fetus as a developing entity that might have 'interests' and needs of its own. The thesis proposes that a broadly feminist and relational view of reproductive autonomy should be taken as a starting assumption when evaluating how certain technologies should be implemented. At the same time, however, it is necessary to be realistic about the social and ethical challenges particular technologies might bring. I argue that top-down approaches aiming to apply a singular notion of (reproductive) autonomy to very different kinds of reproductive contexts overlook the moral complexity of pregnancy, which is additionally bolstered by prevailing social views of maternal duties and future children's best interests. Attention to context, both in the sense of the particular social circumstances and the existing medical possibilities, is crucial for a realistic assessment of the implications of new technologies for pregnant women's autonomy.
Date of Award31 Dec 2021
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Manchester
SupervisorRebecca Bennett (Supervisor) & Alexandra Mullock (Supervisor)


  • autonomy
  • bioethics
  • pregnancy
  • reproduction
  • ethics

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