“Surrogacy raises grave moral concerns, and powerfully undermines the dignity of human procreation, particularly when it comes to the women and children involved in the process,” writes Father Tad Pacholczyk in his article “The multiple moral problems of surrogacy.” The Center for Bioethics and Culture declares, “A few of the many issues raised by surrogacy include: the rights of children produced; the ethical and practical ramifications of the further commodification of women’s bodies; the exploitation of poor and low-income women desperate for money; the moral and ethical consequences of transforming a normal biological function of a woman’s body into a commercial transaction.” “Womb rental (also known as surrogacy) is a serious violation of women’s and children’s rights and dignity. It is indeed a form of reproductive exploitation of women that treats newborns as commodities that are subject to commercial agreements,” agrees the Coalition for the Abolition of Surrogate Motherhood. Indeed, because commercial surrogacy gravely harms women and children, and commodifies an act that should be the culmination of the love of two married parents, commercial surrogacy should be outlawed in the United States and around the world.
What is commercial surrogacy? In brief, it is paying a “surrogate” woman to gestate and bear the child of another “commissioning” couple or individual, who will then take the child from the surrogate at birth. As the Heritage Foundation describes it in its report How Surrogacy Harms Women and Children:
“In a surrogacy arrangement, a woman carries a child for an individual or couple who is unable to do so themselves. Sometimes the child is genetically related to the commissioning parents, but often donor gametes are used, and the child is related to only one, or in some cases neither, of the commissioning parents. Sometimes the surrogate mother is genetically related to the child she carries, but often she is not. Some surrogacy arrangements are domestic, but many commissioning parents pursue international surrogacy arrangements, which adds an additional layer of logistical and legal difficulties.”
While commercial surrogacy is a huge business around the world–expecting to generate almost $28 billion a year by 2025–how it is regulated differs from country to country. For example in Germany and France it is prohibited, while in Russia and Ukraine it is somewhat regulated. In other countries, especially developing nations, it is not regulated at all. In the United States, there is no federal law regulating commercial surrogacy, and different states have taken different approaches. As the Heritage Foundation writes: “Within the United States, a patchwork of laws makes for a Wild West situation. Some states allow commercial surrogacy, some limit surrogacy to altruistic arrangements, and some do not recognize surrogacy contracts.”
Why should commercial surrogacy be banned? First and foremost, it exploits women; especially poor women. As The Center for Bioethics and Culture states: “Surrogacy often depends on the exploitation of low income and poor women by those with means to pay for surrogacy. These unequal transactions result in ‘uninformed’ consent, coercion, low payments, poor health care, and severe risks to the short- and long-term health of women.” Indeed, many poor women do turn to surrogacy as a way to escape grinding poverty, despite the risks. For example, in Ukraine–a hotspot for international surrogacy–a woman can earn over eight times as much through surrogacy as she can from a typical job. The returns are even higher in the developing world. In the United States, surrogates can earn over $50,000 per birth.
Tragically, surrogacy is now emerging as an underreported form of human trafficking. As the Heritage Foundation writes:
“Sadly, the international surrogacy market appears to have significant and growing overlap with human trafficking. Given the amount of money involved, traffickers stand to profit substantially from selling women and girls into surrogacy arrangements. As Dr. Sheela Saravanan, author of A Transnational Feminist View of Surrogacy Biomarkets in India, wrote in a submission to the UN Special Rapporteur on the sale and sexual exploitation of children, ‘The surrogacy trafficking trade used the same network that was used for domestic work and sex trade from the poor regions of India into urban areas. These unmarried girls [were] impregnated with embryos without their consent. Others were confined in homes and when some girls tried to run away, they [were] caught, brought back and beaten.”
The Coalition for the Abolition of Surrogate Motherhood agrees: “The womb-rental industry operates in developing countries using the same criminal strategies [of] those of the human trafficking networks. These tactics include the identification and recruitment of women in vulnerable situation[s] so that they are more likely to rent their wombs for money.”
In an effort to stop the exploitation of their vulnerable women, the international surrogacy havens of India, Thailand, Mexico, Nepal, and Cambodia have recently prohibited surrogacy involving foreigners.
Commercial surrogacy should also be banned because it greatly harms children. As the Heritage Foundation states: “All too often, the desires of adults—namely, the commissioning parent(s)—supersede the interests of children. Unfortunately, discussions of surrogacy in media—and culture more broadly—rarely focus on the later.” Indeed, commercial surrogacy harms children in several significant ways. First, in cases where the child is not created using both the egg and sperm of a commissioning couple, the child is intentionally being deprived of one or both of his biological parents. In the cases of an individual or a homosexual couple commissioning the surrogacy, or where the egg of the surrogate will be used, this fact is obvious. And as research from the left, right, and center show, children raised in households outside of a married biological mother-father family face significantly greater risks of negative outcomes, such as doing poorly in and dropping out of school, using drugs and alcohol, engaging in early sexual activity and having out-of-wedlock children, committing crime, and having lower future earnings. Significantly, these risks persist even when controlling for family income. And even in cases where the child will be the biological offspring of the commissioning couple, we are intentionally destroying the bond that developed between the child and the surrogate mother over the nine months of the pregnancy; a bond that doctors normally highly encourage.
Second, commercial surrogacy harms children by placing them at greater risk even before being born. The commissioning party can pressure the surrogate to abort a child if the child shows signs of abnormality, or if more embryos implant than the party contracted for (which is more common with in-vitro fertilizations). Sadly, some surrogacy contracts specifically allow a commissioning party to require an abortion in such circumstances.
Third, children born through commercial surrogacy face unique circumstances due to its commercial nature. For example, a couple who contracted with a surrogate mother took home the healthy baby girl that the mother delivered but refused to take her twin brother who had Downs syndrome. In another case, a couple that contracted with a surrogate divorced before the baby was born. After the birth of the child, neither the contacting mother nor the surrogate mother wanted the child, while the father was prohibited by local law from adopting as he was single.
Finally, commercial surrogacy should be banned because it commodifies what should not be commodified. As the Center for Bioethics and Culture states:
“Surrogacy is another form of the commodification of women’s bodies. Surrogate services are advertised, surrogates are recruited, and operating agencies make large profits. The commercialism of surrogacy raises fears of a black market and baby selling, of breeding farms, turning impoverished women into baby producers and the possibility of selective breeding at a price. Surrogacy degrades a pregnancy to a service and a baby to a product.”
Having a baby should be the culmination of the love between a married mother and father, who will create a loving home for the child; not the result of an impersonal contract drafted by backroom lawyers. Putting a value on the female body and the children it can produce deprives humans of their God-given dignity and will take us down a road we should tremble to travel.
Because it greatly harms women and children, and commodifies an inherently invaluable act, commercial surrogacy must be banned in America and the rest of the world. As the Heritage Foundation concludes in its report How Surrogacy Harms Women and Children:
“Opposition to surrogacy is not a simple left versus right issue, and people across the political spectrum can agree that American [and indeed international] laws and society need to prioritize the dignity and health of women, the needs of children, and the fundamental human rights of all individuals when addressing the matter of surrogacy.”