On September 3rd, 2020, I attended a Webinar hosted by the Center for Bioethics and Culture (CBC),featuring three activists: author Kajsa Ekis Ekman; Gary Powell, European Special Consultant to the CBC; and Jennifer Lahl, President of the CBC. Up for discussion was the need for an international solution to protect human rights, as surrogacy is not a practice found only in the United States, but it is a worldwide problem. While the backgrounds and beliefs of the panelists range from feminist/Marxist to gay conservative LGB rights activist, one thing is clear: surrogacy is a common enemy that must be defeated.
The message is certain in today’s society: everyone has the “right” to a child, and we are terrible people to deny anyone that right. We are told that surrogacy is a wonderful blessing and a sign of modernization and diversity which finally allows all who long for their own children to be able to have them. However, no person has a “right” to a child, and certainly no one has the “right” to outsource a pregnancy. Surrogacy is a highly profitable, baby-trafficking trade that outsources the growing of human beings as if they are manufactured goods. Surrogacy is, therefore, nothing better than the commodification of babies and the debasement of women to incubating ovens.
Our focus at Them Before Us is to protect the most basic, most crucial rights for children; the right to know their mothers and fathers, the right for them to be known and loved by their mothers and fathers, and the right to be raised by their mothers and fathers. As Ekman discussed, surrogacy is a fragmentation of motherhood and womanhood. No woman participating in surrogacy, neither the “intended mother” nor the carrier, is an entirely whole woman during and following the surrogacy process, for that process intrinsically diminishes womanhood, and, consequently, womanhood’s power. Both of the women involved are intentionally separated from their children, intentionally separated from their bodies, and no one can truly say—plainly and unambiguously—who the true mother is. As stated by Elizabeth Kane in Ekman’s book “Being and Being Bought: “I now believe that surrogate motherhood is nothing more than the transference of pain from one woman to another. One woman is in anguish because she cannot become a mother, and another woman may suffer for the rest of her life because she cannot know the child she bore for someone else.”
Some will argue, philosophically, that surrogacy isn’t baby trading since the baby doesn’t exist when the contract is being signed, and, therefore, you can’t trade something that isn’t in existence. Kajsa Ekis Ekman put this idea to rest by positing that this is much like saying “prepared food doesn’t exist because the food that we ordered isn’t made yet.” What, then, are we doing when we enter a restaurant, exactly? Paying money to sit at a table? No, we intend to purchase a product. Using this logic, we’d be required to believe the commissioning parents are purchasing a contract, not a baby. But, of course, that’s untrue. They are purchasing a human being who is handed over upon birth. Babies who are intentionally put into the vulnerable situation of having their bonds severed from their birth mothers and intentionally having the burden of the likelihood of lifelong attachment issues inflicted upon them. The buyers are handed “their” children, the transaction takes place, and the agencies make their money. Babies are bought and sold for the sake of these agencies’ profits, but the higher expense is really paid by the children.
Panelist Jennifer Lahl explained that she was not allowed to separate her dog’s newborn puppies from the dog for several weeks, as doing so too soon was considered animal cruelty. Animal rights activists will often talk about how cruel it is to impregnate animals simply to separate the mother from the baby upon birth. They argue that the desire to nurture and protect one’s offspring is so beautiful and primal, and that to separate mothers and newborns is too traumatic. Cows, for example, should be able to nurse their calves, bond with and protect them, and watch them grow up, as this is what nature intends. We acknowledge that separation of mother and newborn is cruelty to animals because it goes against their instincts, but when it comes to humans’ being instantly separated from the children they carry—human beings who are much higher functioning, cognitively, than animals—there seems to be a disconnect. We seem to find nothing wrong with this. We’ve relegated human female reproduction to where we find nothing wrong with treating women as our own factory-farm breeding animals, and do not think about, or care about, any trauma which may ensue from the children’s separation from the women they instinctively know, and long for, as their mothers.
Other philosophers argue that a surrogacy arrangement is simply a “bundle of parental rights” being sold, not a baby. They suggest that because it isn’t possible to legally “own” another person, surrogacy is not the trading of babies. In summation, they argue that the baby in question is not a baby, but a “bundle of parental rights to be sold,” that the baby “buys the parents,” or that human trafficking can’t exist because you can’t “legally own another person.” On the contrary, we know that human trafficking exists. And it’s just foolish to state that the baby is “buying the parents” when surrogacy contracts exist to codify the relinquishment of a surrogate’s rights to make decisions concerning her own body during pregnancy while carrying the product of the “intended parent.” Surrogates can be sued for violation of contract, and “intended parents” have the contractual right, in situations where their commissioned women must be put on life-support, to keep her on life support if the child is still being gestated. It is impossible for the babies to get a say in the matter and choose who possesses their parental rights, of course, so both the babies and the women carrying them are the property of the commissioners, not vice versa.
Gary Powell, a veteran LGB activist, discussed how promoting surrogacy under the gay rights banner damages the struggle for gay rights, and shared deep concerns regarding how the LGB movement’s campaigns tend to center on beliefs which cause serious harm to women and children. He is also disturbed by the LGB activists’ use of intimidation in order to silence and cancel people. He believes surrogacy must be fought in the “service of human rights…by a mature and reflective LGB community that should be particularly concerned about cherishing the protection and advancement of human rights, given our own painful experience, in so many cases, of having been deprived of them.” He related how surrogacy allows for gay men—specifically wealthy gay men—to become parents, and he pointed out the chilling parallels between the Handmaid’s Tale and gay men’s commissioning women to gestate babies for them. The women in these situations are completely erased as mothers. It is often reported in news articles that “such and such gay couple are having/have had a baby,” but with no reference to or concern for the ethics of the renting of a woman’s womb, the risk to the woman’s health, or the elimination of genetic motherhood in the life of that child, all of which must happen for that couple to receive their purchased product. Rather, articles on surrogacy are generally skewed towards happy families that weren’t able to have a baby naturally, and a self-sacrificing woman, if she’s mentioned at all in the article, who has provided this baby for them. According to Powell, the gay rights movement has largely repressed any dissident opinion about the harmful human rights abuses inherent in surrogacy (the same goes for medicating children with puberty blockers) and fears that speaking out against these issues may soon be considered a criminal act.
Ekman also discussed how surrogacy opens the door for pedophiles to take advantage of the process, as there are no background check requirements to pursue surrogacy as there are with adoption. A man in Thailand was granted legal custody of his thirteen children born through surrogacy in 2018 after initially stating in 2014 that “he wanted 10 to 15 babies a year and that he wanted to continue the baby-making process until he’s dead.” He had political aspirations, and he was hoping to manufacture 100-1,000 children he could use as voters in future election bids. Not only is this act an injustice to the children he has created, but it also sets a ghastly example for anyone wanting to create a large number of children for any distorted desire.
Unethical acts like those of the Japanese serial baby commissioner drove both Thailand (2015) and India to ban international commercial surrogacy. India used to be a hot spot for surrogate houses, which were houses where a large number of surrogates were required to stay while gestating the children of mostly foreign “intended parents.” These women were required to leave their husbands and children until the “intended parents” came to pick up the children after birth. As is the case with international surrogacy, these babies would often be left “unclaimed” for weeks at a time, or even indefinitely. These impoverished women were always exploited due to their limited resources and their need for food and housing. The very existence of these houses reveals that exploitation is at the core of surrogacy and exposes what surrogacy truly is—the use of women as our own personal breeders, and the outsourcing and trading of human beings as our own personal property, property with which we can do whatever we choose.
The panelists shared the details of conferences, such as The Hague Conference, to which Ekman was invited, which were intended to establish surrogacy protocols for more transnational regulations. However, while the intent of the gathering was positive, such conferences only result in furthering the practice of surrogacy and the commodification of women and children. It must also be noted that, unfortunately, The British Law Commission made no effort to meet with people who opposed surrogacy.
The first step in protecting human rights internationally is for all people, worldwide, to be informed that surrogacy is harmful. We in the West who recently have been more active in addressing the issues of surrogacy must build a strong anti-surrogacy community through education and conversation, and we must expose the motivations and harms of this multi-billion dollar industry. Then, when we have opened the eyes of others to the harms of surrogacy, we must find our common humanity and alignment on the issue of surrogacy to work against defeating this shared enemy. Whether one is conservative, liberal, progressive, atheist, religiously rigorous, LGBT, feminist, female, or male—we can work together to form an alliance on this urgent issue. Progress will be made through solidarity.