14. Hannah Arendt and Pregnancy in the Public Sphere
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257 INTRODUCTION Although reproduction was once thought to be a paradigmatic private activity, it seems common now to accept that it is part of the public realm. Pregnancy often takes place in public institutions of hospitals or other medical facilities. Public policy may regulate reproduction and infertility services in places where health care is provided by the state, or in places that seek through legislation to restrict or protect women’s access to reproductive and sexual health services. Further, as Amy Mullin has emphasized, pregnant people not only make physical adjustments to their changing bodies, but they also must make accommodations within the public sphere.1 Climbing the stairs in the public library may no longer be feasible for a pregnant person, and parental leave from work might need to be arranged. A person’s context plays an important role in the public accommodation of reproduction as well: secure jobs with paid leave better support women’s financial stability than those without it. Because society seems to readily accept that pregnancy, at least partially, is situated within the public sphere, Hannah Arendt’s insistence that reproduction is not a public activity may seem surprising. It cannot be a political activity, in Arendt’s view, because political activities are public—that is, they are the topics of speech and action. Arendt’s main concern is political agency within the public sphere. Reproduction is private because it is aimed at the maintenance of life, and as such it is unable to disclose the “who” of a person. Unsurprisingly, many feminists have been skeptical of using Arendt to discuss embodied subjectivity and reproductive justice, because she relegates reproduction to the private realm.2 For the purposes of this essay, a firm definition HANNAH ARENDT AND PREGNANCY IN THE PUBLIC SPHERE Katy Fulfer 14 258 | Part 4. Our Future Body Images of “reproductive justice” and what it involves is not required. For my purposes it is sufficient to say that reproductive justice means that women have decisionmaking authority over their reproductive capacities, and that reproductive justice requires the end of women’s oppression that is facilitated through others’ control of their reproductive activities.3 Contrary to some feminist skepticism, I think Arendt has important contributions to make to feminist thinking about reproduction. This essay is a first step in exploring those contributions. I contend that reproduction can indeed appear within the public realm as Arendt understands it. Further, I show why Arendt’s distinctions between private and public activities do not necessarily threaten conditions for women’s political agency. My motivation in turning to Arendt is to think through moral and political problems with contract pregnancy , which is the practice of hiring a woman to gestate an embryo. Whether a gestational laborer is paid or provides labor altruistically, some feminists worry about reinforcing women’s relegation to the private sphere.4 Further, contract pregnancy is prone to encouraging the idea that women be viewed not as agents but as instrumentally valuable insofar as they make healthy babies for well-off couples.5 In the age of global reproductive travel, concerns extend to the exploitation of poor women in the global south who sell gestational labor as a means of managing acute poverty.6 One question that arises from the transnational context in particular is that of women’s agency: can women exercise agency in selling gestational labor, or is this act merely a rational choice, the least bad out of a set of inadequate options? Though I will not answer that question in this essay , I aim to show that Arendt’s philosophy can make a meaningful intervention into this conversation. I will use contract pregnancy as a reference point in rethinking an Arendtian perspective on reproduction as a site of political action. This essay is structured as follows. First, I look at how reproduction becomes public in what Arendt calls “the social,” and I draw connections with Foucault’s concept of biopolitics. Using the social-biopolitical as a lens reveals the oppressive aspects of contract pregnancy that obstruct women’s agency. Second, I look at how contract pregnancy is made public through the exercise of agency. How an agent takes up a particular act is what determines whether that act is private or public. CONTRACT PREGNANCY IN THE SOCIAL-BIOPOLITICAL The Social I challenge the presumption that reproduction is philosophically uninteresting from an Arendtian perspective because it is a private activity. Contract pregnancy provides an insightful example of the problem Arendt identifies as...


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