Surrogacy has exploded into the public consciousness in the past few years, but Pope Francis’ condemnation of the practice served as a global mic drop in January 2024.
Supporters of, and opposition to, surrogacy are found throughout the political spectrum which often makes for strange bedfellows. Strict conservatives and radical feminists, for example, frequently align against the practice. Center-ish conservative pundits and outlets often ally with “classical liberals,” thereby, perhaps unwittingly, joining the activist LGBT class to advance the desires of adults at the expense of child rights. The Dispatch, an ostensibly conservative outlet, took a bolder stance on the topic, arguing that “Surrogacy is Good for Women and Good for Families.” One would hope such a claim would be backed with great reasoning and data, but upon closer inspection, it’s backed by neither.
Author Elizabeth Nolan Brown opens by sharing the story of an extended family member’s desire to use a surrogate and another family member offering up her womb. The surrogacy never materialized, but according to Brown, her barely-there-anecdote illustrates that surrogacy “can be an act of compassion and love.” In her article, she provides her trinity of reasons surrogacy is beneficial. She claims it’s good for families, for women, and for humanity. Them Before Us supporters are not surprised that she omitted the most important party – the child – in her evaluation. So we shall consider them for her.
“Surrogacy is good for families.“
Brown claims surrogacy is good for families because it would improve the birth rates, but then immediately recognizes that surrogacy births are a drop in the demographic bucket and would have virtually no effect at all. She then decries “infertility” as the root of childless homes, then admits that not wanting children at all is statistically the biggest culprit. Even though she can’t seem to express why, surrogacy is somehow the answer because it’s “good for families.”
The larger issue is Brown’s adult-centric view of “making families.” With #BigFertility’s involvement, “making families” means any and every combination of adults and children. While this means of “making families” may be “good” for adults, when it comes to children, not all families are created equal. If a family is to be “good” for children, it must respect these three critical criteria:
Gender matters. Men and women parent in complementary ways, bringing distinct benefits to their children. When one gender is missing, particularly fathers, we see almost predictable patterns arising in children, specifically early sexual behavior among girls and problems with the law for boys.
Biology matters. We know from decades of research on the impact of divorce and cohabitation, that biological parents tend to be the safest, most invested, and most permanent in a child’s life. In contrast, non-biological caregivers tend to be more transitory, invest less time/resources, and more dangerous to children living under their care.
It is widely acknowledged within the psychological community that children suffer trauma, and thus negative effects when they lose one or both parents to divorce, abandonment (even if subsequently adopted), death, or third-party reproduction.
Surrogacy implicates and puts at risk all three aspects of child well-being. It’s only “good for families” in the sense that adults get what they want. But surrogacy is never “good for children.”
“Surrogacy is good for women.”
Brown claims that surrogacy is good for women because it helps women who want a baby to get one, and it allows surrogates to earn money while feeling great about it afterward. We already debunked that just because surrogacy is “good” for adults who want kids, that doesn’t make it “good” for children. Her second line of reasoning, that it’s “good” for surrogates as an income-earning endeavor, can be used to justify all manner of vile practices from being a drug mule to starting an OnlyFans account. Just because an adult consents and makes money, doesn’t make something “good.”
Brown then seeks to demonstrate that surrogacy is “good” for the surrogate using three studies capturing a total of 133 women, all of which employ recruited participants, resulting in a high likelihood of bias. The first purportedly shows that “surrogates are primarily motivated by altruistic reasons [rather] than monetary gains.” But when you look at the data, you see that only three surrogates were interviewed who reported “the act of handing over the babies to intended couples after birth as an altruistic experience.”
In the second study, 110 women recruited from surrogacy agencies completed an online survey which found many “viewed surrogacy as a positive experience and as something meaningful and impactful to other people’s lives.” The “study” offers details on exactly “how many” women felt that way.
The final study captured a sample of just twenty surrogates interviewed one year after the birth and then a decade later. The interview format was a “semi-structured interview and a self-reporting questionnaire.”
Due to poor methodologies and small samples, the results of these “studies” do not have population-wide conclusions. But, even if a majority of surrogates are emotionally satisfied with the process, Brown omits any mention of the serious, documented risks that implantation, egg harvesting, and surrogate gestation and birth are known to carry. The Heritage Foundation details that a surrogate carrying another woman’s fertilized egg has a “three-fold risk of developing hypertension and pre-eclampsia” and “Egg donors have spoken up about experiencing conditions such as loss of fertility, blood clots, kidney disease, premature menopause, and cancer…”
But even if 100% of the women who serve as surrogates, a number we cannot know because the practice is so unregulated, were safe, happy, and rich as a result, what is the impact on the child through being designed, bought, sold, gestated, and then separated from his or her mother?
Hint: Not good.
Because the need for adoption has long preceded the technology that makes intentional mother loss possible, resources like The Primal Wound, known as the “Adoptees’ Bible,” explain how the loss of a child’s mother at birth can manifest in a wide spectrum of psychological and physiological problems for the child.
Studies show that maternal separation, a feature of surrogacy…and even brief maternal deprivation can permanently alter the structure of the infant brain. Maternal separation can lead to an increase in stress hormones such as cortisol, causing decreased immune function, and causing malfunctions in the hippocampus that can lead to an increase in mental health problems such as schizophrenia, PTSD, autism, anxiety, and altered responses to pain, and learning difficulties such as ADD and memory and concentration difficulties. Maternal separation is also linked to an increase in suicidal tendencies, drug and alcohol problems, and an impaired capacity to form intimate relationships.
But what would a child born of a surrogate say if they could represent him or herself? See what Olivia, born of traditional surrogacy has to say about her experience:
“I lived it as an abandonment. I feel as if I was abandoned by my birth mother… as I was sold. There’s nothing worse than for a child to feel that at one moment in my life I was literally sold for a check.”
There is not enough evidence to claim that surrogacy is good for women, but the larger question is whether or not surrogacy is good for children. The answer is, no. Not ever.
“Surrogacy is good for humanity.”
Brown’s concluding point is that surrogacy is good for humanity because it is a “feminist system” of women helping other women, it aligns with the religious and conservatives prioritizing of “family,” and it is a way for people to “bestow the great gift of parenthood upon someone else.” She says the freedom to choose all of the above is more important than any opposition’s “icky” feelings about the process, highlighting the strong likelihood that Brown did little research on the actual opposition.
We’ve already unpacked that surrogacy does not align with a children’s rights view of family because it would incentivize cutting children off from their mother and father and pasting them into the household of any assortment of adults who can pay for them. In our view on the differences between adoption and third-party reproduction, including surrogacy, we make it clear that neither practice should be guided by what adults want. The primary consideration must be defending a child’s right to his or her own parents. When that ideal is not possible, the child should have safe, loving, healthy, and thoroughly screened parents granted to him or her. An ethical populace cannot advocate for “free choices” that violate the rights of other human beings.
Surrogacy can’t be good for humanity if it’s not good for children. Surrogacy isn’t good for children because it intentionally separates children from their biological parent(s), inflicts a primal wound, turns children into commodities to be bought and sold, and it often starves children of the daily maternal presence which maximizes their development.
Next time The Dispatch writes about surrogacy, we hope they will consider the party that was notably absent in their first article – the children.