In the documentary Google Baby (2009), Indian women become pregnant for would-be parents in America and Israel, who go online to select gametes for fertilization, and embryos for freezing, shipping and implantation, then fly out to collect a child after nine months. Nor is it just in the travel disparaged as ‘reproductive tourism’ and appreciated as ‘cross-border reproductive care’ that reproduction has been globalized. Making and not making babies depends also on less obvious flows of people, policies, practices and products. In Northern Ireland, for example, abortion is currently still allowed only ‘to protect the mother's life or health’, but women unable to go to Britain for the procedure have ordered pills from India via a charity in Amsterdam.
In 1995, anthropologists Faye Ginsburg and Rayna Rapp brought scholars together around the observation that ‘seemingly distant power relations shape and constrain local reproductive experiences’. They further promoted Shellee Colen's concept of ‘stratified reproduction’ to analyse how, within and between countries, ‘some categories of people are empowered to nurture and reproduce, while others are disempowered’. After two centuries of increasingly dominant nation-states, the end of the Cold War prompted this recognition of transnational links. There had been earlier forms of globalization, but most historians accept that interaction intensified from around 1900 and again after 1980, in uneven, resisted and reversible, yet unmistakable trends. By the 1890s, various agencies were starting to target reproduction, a phenomenon significant to humanity at large and peoples everywhere, through projects to universalize western norms. Following sometimes coercive population-control programmes in international development after World War II, reproduction was prominently reframed in the 1990s as a matter of individual choice, and has become a key issue in global health and a major sector of biomedical industry worldwide. This raises two main questions.
First, how did practices of procreation travel, and to what extent did the connections make reproduction the same? In the twentieth century, countries converged on medicalized childbirth (routine supervision by medical attendants leading to hospital delivery) and – with significant pronatalist exceptions – on birth control leading to smaller families. Almost all now have at least one IVF clinic. Yet they did not ‘develop’ along a single path. Various modernities rather coexisted and interacted; the periods of greatest change overlapped; and the metropoles, whose own modernity owed much to empire, imported colonial and postcolonial innovations.