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Is Commercial Surrogacy a Human Rights Disaster?

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Every American state has its own laws on surrogacy; until this year, a strict ban was in place in Michigan. Now it has joined the majority of states that permit some form of commercial surrogacy. The only states currently banning it are Nebraska and Louisiana.

The United States has become a leader in commercialising human life. But in this particular human rights abuse, it’s an outlier. Elsewhere in the world, only a handful of countries, including paragons of human rights like Russia and Iran, permit commercial surrogacy.

However, there are moves to follow America’s lead in countries like Ireland, the United Kingdom and Australia. Others can be expected to explore this option.

In fact, over the next couple of decades, surrogacy is expected to explode. One market research agency has predicted that the global demand for surrogacy will rise from US$14 billion in 2022 to $129 billion in 2032 – almost a ten-fold increase.

Will this be an ethical business? Does surrogacy, especially commercial surrogacy, foster human dignity? Is it the “most pro-family thing”?

The media often frames opposition to surrogacy as a “religious” issue. After all, Pope Francis recently denounced it: ““I consider despicable the practice of so-called surrogate motherhood, which represents a grave violation of the dignity of the woman and the child.”

Strong words, but feminists are even more outspoken. Feminist icon Gloria Steinem fiercely opposed the legalisation of commercial surrogacy in New York in 2019: “women in economic need become commercialized vessels for rent, and the fetuses they carry become the property of others”.

And Julie Bindel, a well-known lesbian journalist in the UK, has said that “the surrogacy industry, in its entirety, is nothing but a reproductive brothel”.

She didn’t mince her words: “for everyone who has the means to pursue surrogacy, including gay couples, adoption is also an option. Nobody has the right to a biological child, regardless of their sexuality or sex. The use of impoverished women’s bodies for the benefit and convenience of those claiming parenthood as ‘their human right’ is anathema to women’s liberation.”

The International Coalition for the Abolition of Surrogate Motherhood (ICASM), a European coalition of feminist and human rights organizations, is just as vehement in its repudiation of Governor Whitmer’s rhetoric:

Surrogacy raises serious ethical and human rights concerns. It attacks vulnerable women, depriving them of their dignity and bodily autonomy. It puts their lives and health at risk. It treats children as objects taken from their biological mothers, undermining their rights and their psychological, emotional and physical well-being. Surrogacy reinforces the patriarchal view of women as passive recipients of reproduction, commercializes their wombs in the name of a pseudo ‘choice’, and deprives them of their inalienable human rights by organizing their voluntary servitude under the guise of ‘consent’.

Why surrogacy described as ‘progressive’?

Blind Freddy could see that there is substance in these allegations. Why, then, is surrogacy regarded as a “progressive” cause?

A few reasons spring to mind.

Women are having children later and later. The average age of an American mother at her first child was In 2021, the average woman gave birth for the first time at 27.3 years old, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, up from 25.6 in 2011 and 21.4 in 1970. Some women leave motherhood so late that not even IVF can help. They turn to surrogacy.

Fewer children are available for adoption. Why not adopt instead of renting a womb? Because there are fewer babies available for adoption today. According to the Guttmacher Institute, an abortion industry think tank, “The estimated effect of abortion legalization on adoption rates is sizable and can account for much of the decline in adoptions”. If legal, commercial surrogacy becomes a viable option for desperate couples.

US IVF clinics have added surrogacy to their product lines. The IVF industry is highly sophisticated, profitable, and aggressive. It offers catalogues of surrogate mothers and egg donors. There’s even a “Bumble for surrogates” which uses the software pioneered for dating websites to match up surrogates and commissioning parents.

More same-sex couples and singles want to have children. The most persuasive argument for surrogacy is it gives infertile couples a chance to have a child. But a leading Australian surrogacy broker told Mercator that half of his clients were gay couples or single people. A look at the websites of surrogacy agencies will confirm this – many of their cheery images and videos feature gay couples. As the LGBT lobby becomes more powerful, more gay dads will feel that they want children. It’s an inevitable consequence of legalising same-sex marriage.

This post on X (formerly Twitter) from an agency called Men Having Babies, gives an idea of the scope and scale of this segment of the market: