The Huffington Post recently published a blog by bioethicist and philosopher Rory E. Kraft, Jr. titled “Pregnancy as Harm?” As a friend and former colleague of Dr. Kraft, he and I have had numerous conversations about pregnancy as harm and we have presented on a conference panel together on this very topic. However, it seems—based in part on my students’ reactions and discussions I’ve had with people who don’t work in the field of reproduction—that most people find the idea of pregnancy as harm as counterintuitive or oxymoronic.
Pregnancy is generally understood as a beautiful, special, and maybe even magical time in a woman’s life. And while it no doubt is for many women, it can simultaneously be harmful. For example, pregnancy can entail various nontrivial, though not life-threatening, discomforts, such as weight gain, back pain, edema, and morning sickness. Furthermore, pregnancy can lead to life threatening conditions, such as gestational diabetes and hypertension, and in many parts of the developing world pregnancy related complications are the leading cause of death for women in their prime. In addition to being painful, giving birth can also cause harms, like hemorrhaging, internal tearing, placental abruption, and nerve damage to the pelvic structures. In addition to physical harms, pregnancy and childbirth also have the potential to lead to mental health problems. Since being pregnant changes women’s hormone levels, it can affect women’s emotional well-being and their overall psychological balance.
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