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This month, we talk to Quill Kukla, Professor of Philosophy at Georgetown University and Senior Research Scholar at the Kennedy Institute of Ethics, about some of her work on reproductive risk. Click here to listen to our conversation.

A pregnant woman is usually advised to be cautious about what products to purchase, whether to drink alcohol, and which locations to frequent. We tend to think that a pregnant woman is responsible not just for her own safety–she’s also the responsible for the safety of her unborn child. And of course that’s all true. But in this episode, our guest argues that the story doesn’t end there, and that many of the further details to how we think about these issues are problematic.

For one thing, the responsibility of making sure an unborn baby is safe is placed exclusively on the shoulders of its mother, at the expense of other parties who may very well be in a better position to make things safer. Before I enter this office building, I need to make sure it doesn’t contain chemicals that are harmful to my baby. But why should I expected to have to avoid certain crucial locations for nine months? Why shouldn’t the building instead be expected to keep its offices free of such chemicals? And why shouldn’t companies that manufacture these chemicals be expected to test them?

For another thing, these choices are often impossible to make, given the amount of information it’s reasonable to expect any individual person to have. We place a heavy expectation on pregnant women that they be virtuosic risk managers; that they weigh the risks every decision they might make could pose to their unborn babies before making them. And yet they are often presented either with conflicting information, or with misinformation.

The upshot is that we of course want to keep our unborn children safe–but not in a way that keeps pregnant women blocked from full access to social and political life for the duration of their pregnancies. Tune in to hear the full discussion!

Matt Teichman