Article Title

Gestation and Parental Rights: Why is Good Enough Good Enough?


In this paper I explore the question of whether gestation can ground parental rights. I consider Anca Gheaus’s (2012) claim that the labour and bonding of gestation give one the right to parent one’s biological child. I argue that, while Gheaus’s gestational account of parental rights is the most successful of such accounts in the literature, it is ultimately unsuccessful, because the concept ‘maternal-fetal bonding’ does not stand up to scrutiny. Gheaus argues that the labour expended in gestation generates parental rights. This is a standard, Lockean sort of a move in parental ethics—it usually relies on the claim that I have proprietary rights over the products of my labour. However, Gheaus argues that a standard labour account of parental rights could not generate parental rights over one’s own birth child via gestation without ownership, since the labour would merely afford one a right to enjoy the goods of parenthood. At best, then, labour alone would generate a right to a child. But, Gheaus argues, not only do gestational mothers expend labour in the course of the pregnancy; they also develop emotional ties to the fetus. They ‘bond’ with it. This, Gheaus argues, coupled with labour, gives the birth mother parental rights over her birth child. Fathers, on her account, acquire rights over their birth child by contributing labour—in the form of antenatal support—during the course of the pregnancy. I argue that because ‘bonding’ is not an appropriately morally salient phenomenon, Gheaus’s account does not work unless it relies on a proprietary claim, and this is prima facie reason to reject the account. Further, the fact that it only confers parental rights on fathers by proxy also gives us reason to reject the account. I then offer a brief sketch of a more promising, positive account of parental rights.

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