Whose Right to Choose? Choice, ethics and regulation in 21st-century reproduction

Saturday 31 October, 1.30pm until 3.00pm, Lecture Theatre 1

In the 20th century, women’s control over their fertility was revolutionised by the contraceptive pill and the growing availability of legal and safe abortion. In the 21st century, reproductive choice is no longer exclusively about preventing or terminating a pregnancy, but also about overcoming natural barriers to conceiving, and choosing to have children using Assisted Reproductive Technologies (ARTs). While contraception and abortion are accepted as a part of modern life, and everybody knows somebody who has experienced fertility treatment, the clash between choice and regulation are still fraught. Policymakers and commentators fret about there being too many abortions, while the media report on fertility treatment allowing women to have babies in their 60s and 70s, octuplets being born in California, and mothers giving birth to their own grandchildren.

Abortion remains a procedure that cannot be accessed ‘on demand’ – a woman must claim that having a child will damage her mental health, and two doctors must authorise the procedure. Fertility treatment is subject to myriad regulations by the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority. Recent guidance about Single Embryo Transfer, which limits the ability of clinics to implant more than one embryo at a time, so as to reduce the likelihood of complications, has been opposed by some women and doctors, who see this as a restriction on their ability to make personal and clinical judgements.

Should we trust people to make the right reproductive choices – or do we need to protect them against the excesses of what is possible? Are there ‘too many abortions’ – or too many people seeking fertility treatment for the wrong reasons? How far should the decisions of official bodies regulate individuals’ decision-making and clinicians’ practice?

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Professor Peter Braude
head of department, Women's Health, King's College London; director, Centre for Preimplantation Genetic Diagnosis, Guy's and St Thomas Hospital

Ann Furedi
chief executive, British Pregnancy Advisory Service; author, The Moral Case for Abortion

Professor Sally Sheldon
professor of law, Kent Law School, University of Kent; co-author, Fragmenting Fatherhood: a socio-legal study

Tony Gilland
associate fellow, Academy of Ideas

Produced by
Tony Gilland associate fellow, Academy of Ideas
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