Them Before Us founder Katy Faust recently testified against Senate Bill 137 in the South Dakota Senate, which aims to establish gestational surrogacy arrangements and agreements. According to the bill’s proponents, surrogacy has been practiced in South Dakota for over thirty years with “no problems,” thus the industry sought to enact more specific measures to protect the involved parties “and the children.”
Proponents gave testimonies overflowing with emotional cliches, such as how surrogacy is simply “people helping people have children” by “carrying someone’s child and giving them a safe place to grow when they are not able.” The mantra that surrogates are “giving children to their parents” when they otherwise “cannot become children without the help of surrogates” was repeated ad-nauseum. Surrogacy defenders must rely on adult-centric narratives.
But for children, surrogacy can never be child-friendly. Surrogates are not simply “taking the place” of another mother who can’t grow her child. For the developing baby the surrogate is his or her mother, and the biological mother is a stranger to the child upon birth. The unacknowledgement of the importance of the prenatal bond and how motherhood begins at conception, inflicts a life-long primal wound on children.
As heartbreaking as it is to not be able to carry one’s own biological child, a point mentioned by many of the proponents, these embryos whose lives are being manipulated are not “becoming children with help” – they already are children. Others stated that surrogacy “creates life,” and another gestational carrier stated that she’s a “pro-life, Christian woman,” and would never terminate or discard any viable embryos. The practice of IVF, inherent within surrogacy, is hardly a life-affirming practice. Surrogates may enter into the process with the intent of not discarding any viable embryos, but the IVF process is rife with violations of children’s right to life.
Another gestational carrier stated that she’s been hired by a single father, claiming she is a helpful person by nature. Is intentionally depriving a child of the fundamental right to be known, raised, and loved by his or her mother and father helpful to a child? The answer is always… no.
Over and over, proponents claimed this bill aims to “do our best for the children and the people involved in the process as gestational carriers or intended parents.” In reality, their notion of child protection is a manipulation of language in the service of adults.
The opposition focused exclusively on how surrogacy harms children. Norman Woods of Family Heritage Alliance Action, discussed how surrogacy is not as simple as its advocates claim, as surrogacy splits the idea of mom into three different people. He also stated how the risks of egg donation and surrogacy are often not divulged to its participants. Chris Motz of the South Dakota Catholic Conference urged the Senate to consider the ethical issues of surrogacy, such as the exchange of monetary compensation for children. He questioned why for-profit adoption is prohibited but commercial surrogacy is predicated on profit.
Among the testimonies from donor-conceived children was Katy Francisco, a Them Before Us donor-conceived advocate. She talked about the pain of being donor-conceived, struggling with her identity, not being able to relate to her biological father, and the hypocrisy of surrogacy being for the child. Surrogacy goes against all of the basic instincts that are found in the maternal ward, from immediately placing a baby on his or her mother’s chest to encouraging breastfeeding to keeping mother and baby in the same room. She urged lawmakers to consider how it would feel to be conceived in a lab, and stated she would have preferred to be conceived through a one-night stand, because then at least her parents would have met each other. As someone struggling to conceive right now, Francisco understands the pain of infertility, but she doesn’t think donor conception and surrogacy are the answers: “We can’t be trading kids in and out of mothers and pretending that it’s in their best interests.”
Katy Faust discussed children’s right to their mothers and fathers, and how the child is the person around which this bill needs to focus. Ironically the bill identifies that the “best interest of the child” is to be handed over to the intended parents who may or may not be genetically related, and who have never undergone any screenings or background checks. She responds to the quip that “surrogacy is just a way to help people build families” by quoting Anonymous Us founder Alana Newman who notes that “this is not a new way of creating families, but a new way of tearing them apart.” When it comes to the child’s perspective, biology matters, and it’s one of the many reasons that adoption centered around the best interests of children by focusing on safe placements, prohibits paying the birth mother, and promotes openness in family placement. She then contrasts surrogacy as a marketplace centered around the desires of adults which permits payments for children, prefers anonymous donors, and requires no screening for “intended” parents. Surrogacy flies in the face of adoption best practices.
Surrogacy creates intentionally motherless children, and even if children are raised by their genetic mothers and fathers, the practice makes possible the cutting and pasting of children into any and all adult arrangements. While proponents’ testimonies asked us to consider how we would feel if we were “in their shoes” and suffering infertility, we must instead walk a mile in the shoes of the child who has lost their mother and/or father for profit. As Katy Faust concluded, “…your sympathy needs to not lie with adults, it needs to lie with the children whose rights to their mother and father are being violated, 93% of whom’s right to life is being violated. Children created through commercial surrogacy processes, their right to be born free and not bought and sold is being violated. No matter how the adults suffer, none of that justifies violating children’s fundamental rights. It is with the kids that you need to align on this, not adults who desire something.”
To listen to the whole Senate meeting, click HERE!