Is Surrogacy Abusive to Women?

 

As someone who considers herself a reasonably committed pro-lifer (exceptions only for rape, incest, life of the mother), it was an unsettling — but useful — experience for me to find myself on the opposite side of a “reproductive health” issue from those who are usually my allies.

The June 28 edition of National Review Online featured an interview conducted by Kathryn Jean Lopez with Kathleen Sloan, a member of the National Organization for Women’s national board. Titled “Wombs for Rent: A war on women that Left and Right can end together,” it celebrated the potential political alliance between liberal and conservative women in opposition to “third-party reproduction.”

Kathryn Jean Lopez (whose devout, principled Catholicism I have long admired) presumably opposes third-party reproduction based on long-standing Church teaching, rooted in respect for the miracle and sanctity of human life. The interviewee, Kathleen Sloan, seems to oppose surrogacy based primarily on her belief that “[f]or millienia, across the globe, women have been sexually commodified in a patriarchal world; developments in biotechnology now allow for the reproductive commodification of women and their bodies.”

As an (orthodox!) Episcopalian, I am pro-life because I believe that each life is unique, irreplaceable and created by God. Certainly, assisted reproductive technology can always be misused — cloning, in my view, is wrong because it undermines the uniqueness of each life, for example — but that potential, alone, is insufficient to convince me that it ought to be banned. Perhaps there is something I’m missing (and I welcome the chance to be educated!), but it isn’t intuitively obvious to me that using medical advances to create life is morally objectionable in the way that using it to destroy life would be — especially if, as pro-lifers believe, no life is a “mistake.”

My discomfort with the right-left anti-surrogacy alliance isn’t just theoretical. As a matter of pro-life strategy, does it really make sense for committed pro-lifers (especially those who oppose virtually all abortion) to join arms with feminists like Sloan, who refers to surrogates as “women who sell their reproductive labor”? If pregnancy itself can be properly understood as “reproductive labor,” requiring women, by law, to carry pregnancies to term becomes tantamount to forced “reproductive labor,” i.e., slavery. And if — as those opposed to abortion exceptions believe — it is morally permissible to require rape victims to carry their pregnancies to term, why is it morally wrong to pay a willing military wife tens of thousands of dollars voluntarily to carry a child?

Finally, as a matter of overall political strategy, I have long wondered why committed, principled pro-lifers go out of their way to weigh in on “subsidiary” reproductive rights controversies like egg donation, surrogacy and in-vitro fertilization. With so many people still unconvinced, on libertarian grounds, about restrictions on actual abortions, wouldn’t it make more sense to emphasize areas of general agreement — like opposition to partial birth abortion, late term abortion, sex-selection abortions and the like?

Condemnation of assisted reproductive treatment (ART), used by married couples to have children, simply distances from the pro-life movement many women who would otherwise be sympathetic. It projects an image (for the most part, inaccurately) of pro-lifers as rigid and out-of-touch with the realities of many women’s lives. And it divides those who otherwise consider themselves pro-lifers, rather than adding to our ranks.

With the full understanding that few pro-lifers set out deliberately to alienate and hurt those who disagree with them, it was a valuable shift in perspective for me to stand on political ground I don’t usually occupy. Just about every woman I know who has availed herself of ART is sensitive about the subject; struggling to conceive and/or bear a child cuts to the very heart of our identities as women. That is a fact worth bearing in mind, along with the actual experiences of those who have been part of surrogacy agreements.

Indeed, a dear friend (and yes, it is a friend; I was blessed to be able to bear healthy twins at the ripe old age of 40!) and her husband were parties to a surrogacy agreement because of a medical condition that had always rendered her medically incapable of carrying their child. No one was “exploited” or “commodified” in any way — and having watched the child who resulted grow up, it is absolutely impossible for me to believe that any part of that decision was a mistake.

There are 155 comments.

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  1. Brandon Shafer Coolidge

    Not that this is a topic I’ve spent much time thinking about, being a young bachelor, however, I’ve never thought of surrogacy in and of itself as bad. My concern might be over the method of the embryo production where, as I understand it, it is usual to produce more embryos than needed. I’m not in favor of that. As to surrogacy in and of itself I have no qualms as long as it is not coerced (I see nothing wrong with payment), and I prefer the baby to be going to a loving home with a mom and dad.

    • #1
    • July 2, 2013, at 8:40 AM PDT
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  2. Bob Wainwright Member

    You believe in exceptions for rape AND incest? No matter how many times I hear that, I just can’t get over the meaning of AND in that context. I guess that means pregnancies that result from consensual incest are exceptions?

    • #2
    • July 2, 2013, at 8:45 AM PDT
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  3. Fricosis Guy Listener

    When will we learn that these “left and right together” sessions only serve the left?

    One of the conceits of the professional pro-life movement is that there is substantive common ground with the left. This belief persists even though when the chips are down, nearly every so-called pro-life liberal chooses Leviathan over Life.

    Paging Bart Stupak…

    • #3
    • July 2, 2013, at 8:56 AM PDT
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  4. Profile Photo Member

    So the life of a child conceived through rape or incest is less worthy, less unique than that of a child conceived consensually? Forget the act that lead to the pregnancy for a moment and square away the logic behind this. 

    Of all the positions to take on the abortion debate, I find this one the least admirable because it strikes me as pandering to the left. I usually dismiss people who begin their views on abortion this way.

    • #4
    • July 2, 2013, at 9:04 AM PDT
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  5. Paul DeRocco Member

    What bothers me is the payment. Why is this any different from buying a born baby?

    • #5
    • July 2, 2013, at 9:10 AM PDT
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  6. Amy Schley Moderator

    I looked into egg donation in law school — it’s really good money, particularly for those with higher education. In the end, I just couldn’t do it — I couldn’t abide the idea that somewhere out there was my child, whom I wanted so badly but I couldn’t afford myself, and I had sold him/her. Yes, to a loving family that wanted him/her, but sold nevertheless.

    While as a libertarian, I am in favor of people making their own choices, I disagree very strongly with the practice of surrogacy. What kind of woman would deliberately conceive and carry a child only to hand it over to someone else? Giving an accidental pregnancy up for adoption is one thing, but to create and nurture a life only to sell it to someone else? I would not want “my” child growing inside of and imbibing the fluids of whatever kind of woman was willing to do that.

    • #6
    • July 2, 2013, at 9:10 AM PDT
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  7. Bob Wainwright Member
    Bob Laing: So the life of a child conceived through rape or incest is less worthy, less unique than that of a child conceived consensually? Forget the act that lead to the pregnancy for a moment and square away the logic behind this. 

    Of all the positions to take on the abortion debate, I find this one the least admirable because it strikes me as pandering to the left. I usually dismiss people who begin their views on abortion this way. · 3 minutes ago

    It’s also a red herring. “Life of the mother” cases are basically non existent. Sometimes a procedure necessary to save a mother can jeopardize the baby or even cause it to die, but that’s not abortion. And yet we just hear the 3-exception mantra over and over and over and over ….

    • #7
    • July 2, 2013, at 9:10 AM PDT
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  8. Profile Photo Member
    Carol Platt Liebau: Perhaps there is something I’m missing (and I welcome the chance to be educated!), but it isn’t intuitively obvious to me that using medical advances tocreate life is morally objectionable in the way that using it todestroy life would be — especially if, as pro-lifers believe, no life is a “mistake”?

     

    Most in-vitro fertilization includes the implantation of multiple fertilized eggs in the hopes that at least some will be viable. In the event that one, some, or many are indeed viable, the doctors and patient then make a decision on how many to carry to term. IVF, as currently performed creates the potential for abortion every time it is tried. 

    • #8
    • July 2, 2013, at 9:12 AM PDT
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  9. Mike H Coolidge
    Carol Platt Liebau:

    cloning, in my view, is wrong because it undermines the uniqueness of each life

    Do you tell identical twins that their existence undermines the uniqueness of their sibling?

    Sorry, I know you weren’t coming out for banning cloning, but I think you must be carful with phrases like that.

    • #9
    • July 2, 2013, at 9:15 AM PDT
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  10. The Dowager Jojo Member

    I find surrogacy sickening; in fact I see it pretty much like the NOW lady does. Demeaning to women. When you have your body taken over for nine months and deliver a baby in sweat and agony, that baby is YOURS. I’m not sure surrogacy should be illegal though, because it would probably just create a black market. I’d just like it to be socially unacceptable to get a baby that way.

    • #10
    • July 2, 2013, at 9:17 AM PDT
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  11. Profile Photo Member
    Bob Wainwright
     

    It’s also a red herring. “Life of the mother” cases are basically non existent. Sometimes a procedure necessary to save a mother can jeopardize the baby or even cause it to die, but that’s not abortion. And yet we just hear the 3-exception mantra over and over and over and over …. · 1 minute ago

    Agreed. When pro-life advocates adopt this illogical exception, they give valuable ground to opponents who will cheerfully move the goal posts once this exception becomes the norm. The position is intellectually lazy and a convenient “out” for those who haven’t taken the time to think their position through fully.

    • #11
    • July 2, 2013, at 9:17 AM PDT
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  12. Mike H Coolidge
    Jojo: I find surrogacy sickening; in fact I see it pretty much like the NOW lady does. Demeaning to women. When you have your body taken over for nine months and deliver a baby in sweat and agony, that baby is YOURS. I’m not sure surrogacy should be illegal though, because it would probably just create a black market. I’d just like it to be socially unacceptable to get a baby that way.

    I’d like it to be socially unacceptable to suggest it is sickening to sacrifice oneself to give another family a biological child.

    • #12
    • July 2, 2013, at 9:25 AM PDT
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  13. Amy Schley Moderator
    Jojo: I find surrogacy sickening; in fact I see it pretty much like the NOW lady does. Demeaning to women. When you have your body taken over for nine months and deliver a baby in sweat and agony, that baby is YOURS. I’m not sure surrogacy should be illegal though, because it would probably just create a black market. I’d just like it to be socially unacceptable to get a baby that way. · 3 minutes ago

    I see it as being more demeaning to the kid … how would you like to know there was a receipt from when your parents’ bought you from your birth mom?

    • #13
    • July 2, 2013, at 9:26 AM PDT
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  14. Bryan G. Stephens Thatcher

    Wow what a story. What a way to be a friend in such a profound way.

    I think that surrogacy is a matter of a contract between consenting adults. Everyone wins.

    Other than enforcing the contract, what moral right does the state have to say about any of it?

    It might feel icky to some people, but that is not a state issue.

    If you don’t like it, don’t do it.

    • #14
    • July 2, 2013, at 9:40 AM PDT
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  15. :thinking: no superfluity of n… Member
    Mike H
    Carol Platt Liebau:

    cloning, in my view, is wrong because it undermines the uniqueness of each life

    Do you tell identical twins that their existence undermines the uniqueness of their sibling?

    Indeed; identical twins are ‘merely’ accidental natural clones.

    In fact, clones would likely be more different than identical twins, as the twins have about identical development conditions, while the clones wouldn’t even if birthed from the same woman, as the hormone conditions and the like wouldn’t be quite the same over time (this of course assumes the woman doesn’t carry multiple clones at once).

    Once artificial wombs come out, that will be far less true, but until then (and I think we are a lot further from that than some people think) there we are.

    • #15
    • July 2, 2013, at 9:44 AM PDT
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  16. :thinking: no superfluity of n… Member

    What exactly are we calling “surrogacy”? Is it a woman carrying an embryo that isn’t from her, or is it from her – or do both of those count?

    I don’t see any problem with the former, on its face. I can see problems with the second.

    • #16
    • July 2, 2013, at 9:44 AM PDT
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  17. :thinking: no superfluity of n… Member

    I know why there were the double posts; but why this third, I couldn’t tell you.

    • #17
    • July 2, 2013, at 9:45 AM PDT
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  18. Profile Photo Member

    Cloned posts. Ha!

    • #18
    • July 2, 2013, at 10:00 AM PDT
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  19. Western Chauvinist Member

    Explaining the Church’s pro-life position is akin to explaining conservatism to the electorate. It’s a challenge, putting it mildly.

    However, the clearest overriding principle is the primacy of the God-given dignity of the individual. Which is why, as with others who engage in acts the Church proscribes, such as active homosexuals, or women who have abortions, the Church would never deny the dignity of the person “produced” by surrogacy, nor of the people who chose surrogacy as the means for “producing” that person. 

    I know there are many who believe the Church coerces behavior, but really, she just asks. She asks that we use our free will to honor the Divine Spark in others. IVF and surrogacy are not the best way to do that, and in some cases, they’re literally lethal to God’s beloved creation.

    • #19
    • July 2, 2013, at 10:00 AM PDT
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  20. Nathaniel Wright Inactive

    What about surrogates who are carrying the eggs of the biological mother and the sperm of the biological father? Why should a friend or someone charitable not be able to offer the use of their womb so that others, who want a child but cannot have one due to age/health risk/cancer, can have one.

    I can understand saying that the commodification of a woman’s womb to the “merely” transactional can be viewed by some as dehumanizing, even immoral if such an act was coerced. I cannot understand believing that a charitable act where one person gives another a gift as being tyrannical or morally problematic. 

    While the “renting” of a womb may cause some unpleasant reactions in some people’s minds, the “donating” of one should not.

    What am I to tell my devout Catholic friend who abstained from intercourse outside of marriage, who only now that she is in her 40s has found a meaningful and long term romantic relationship? “Sorry, it’s immoral that your younger sister is willing to help you and your husband have a child because it’s creepy?”

    • #20
    • July 2, 2013, at 10:05 AM PDT
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  21. Mike H Coolidge
    TheRoyalFamily
    Mike H
    Carol Platt Liebau:

    cloning, in my view, is wrong because it undermines the uniqueness of each life

    Do you tell identical twins that their existence undermines the uniqueness of their sibling?

    Indeed; identical twins are ‘merely’ accidental natural clones.

    In fact, clones would likely be more different than identical twins, as the twins have about identical development conditions, while the clones wouldn’t even if birthed from the same woman, as the hormone conditions and the like wouldn’t be quite the same over time (this of course assumes the woman doesn’t carry multiple clones at once).

    Interestingly, twins raised apart have more in common than those raised together. The drive for uniqueness is there if there is a reason to need it.

    • #21
    • July 2, 2013, at 10:17 AM PDT
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  22. The Dowager Jojo Member
    Mike H

    I’d like it to be socially unacceptable to suggest it is sickening to sacrifice oneself give another family a biological child. · 35 minutes ago

    Where someone close to an infertile couple volunteers to be impregnated with their child out of love for them, I don’t find that sickening. But I think that the birth mother has a special “mother” relationship with that child forever, that can’t be contracted away, and that has potential for complication.

    Off-point, I know a long-childless couple where the wife’s sister agreed to be impregnated with their child….few months later the wife turned up pregnant! Oops! Talk about Irish twins. If I were the sister I’d be a little put out.

    The sickening cases are where surrogacy is a commercial transaction renting the mother’s womb. Especially when it’s for women who are too rich and too busy to carry their own child, or for gay male couples who don’t need a woman except as a brood mare. But even genuinely infertile couples are using a strange woman’s body in a way that is abhorrent to me. 

    • #22
    • July 2, 2013, at 10:23 AM PDT
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  23. Mike H Coolidge
    Jojo

    The sickening cases are where surrogacy is a commercial transaction renting the mother’s womb. Especially when it’s for women who are too rich and too busy to carry their own child, or for gay male couples who don’t need a woman except as a brood mare. But even genuinely infertile couples are using a strange woman’s body in a way that is abhorrent to me. 

    My understanding is even the commercial transaction are not wholly commercial. There is money changing hands, but the only people who “rent out their wombs” are those who deeply want to give others the gift of children but need the financial help to make is possible.

    • #23
    • July 2, 2013, at 10:29 AM PDT
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  24. Amy Schley Moderator
    Nathaniel Wright:

    While the “renting” of a womb may cause some unpleasant reactions in some people’s minds, the “donating” of one should not.

    What am I to tell my devout Catholic friend who abstained from intercourse outside of marriage, who only now that she is in her 40s has found a meaningful and long term romantic relationship? 

    I would suggest reminding her just how well surrogacy worked out for Sarah and Hagar, or Rachel and Bilhah, or Leah and Zippah. The resentment between one woman who can’t bear children and the other who gives the first the child she bore has a long and ugly history. There is no way that the relationship between the three (friend, sister and husband) is not going to be fundamentally altered, and the repercussions of doing this may not be ones for which they are prepared.

    The unfortunate truth of life is that sometimes, you make what appear to be all the right choices and you end up worse off for doing so. I struggle with that in my own life. But it doesn’t make the consequences of more bad decisions better.

    • #24
    • July 2, 2013, at 10:34 AM PDT
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  25. KC Mulville Inactive

    Catholic teaching makes distinctions about the entire family process from marriage to child-bearing to child-raising, but Catholic teaching treats them as part of a unified whole. They’re not separate actions that have no relation to one another. And because of that, we don’t separate child-bearing from the family process.

    It’s not enough to “want a child,” noble and unselfish as that sentiment might be. Catholic family teaching places the creating and raising new life within the domain of the family. In short, creating children is an act that belongs to the mother and father, and can’t be separated from them.

    I’d argue that most of the Catholic church’s opposition to “modern” ideas about sexuality is based on modernity’s trend of separating sexuality and child-bearing into disconnected pieces. The church wants families to generate children and raise them … not doing one or the other, but insisting on the whole process.

    We don’t want to break family life into smaller pieces.

    I understand why people dislike the church’s teaching, but the unity and cohesiveness of the family is why the church teaches it … and I value that integrity.

    • #25
    • July 2, 2013, at 10:47 AM PDT
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  26. Bryan G. Stephens Thatcher

    Wow what a story. What a way to be a friend in such a profound way.

    I think that surrogacy is a matter of a contract between consenting adults. Everyone wins.

    Other than enforcing the contract, what moral right does the state have to say about any of it?

    It might feel icky to some people, but that is not a state issue.

    If you don’t like it, don’t do it.

    • #26
    • July 2, 2013, at 10:54 AM PDT
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  27. Western Chauvinist Member
    Nathaniel Wright: …

    What am I to tell my devout Catholic friend who abstained from intercourse outside of marriage, who only now that she is in her 40s has found a meaningful and long term romantic relationship? “Sorry, it’s immoral that your younger sister is willing to help you and your husband have a child because it’s creepy?” 

    Um, just the way that is phrased makes me wonder if your devout and abstaining Catholic friend is planning to have this child in the context of marriage? I hope?

    If I were counseling such a Catholic friend, I would say, “You have trusted God this long. Why are you taking things into your own hands, and against the teachings of your faith, at this point?”

    Also, plenty of women are having babies in their forties, and it’s nothing new. My maternal aunt was born to a forty-year old mother about 80 years ago. My mother had me when she was forty. And I had my youngest in the year I turned forty-one.

    But, I won’t condemn anyone. I know as well as anyone it takes an abundance of grace to accept one’s limitations in life.

    • #27
    • July 2, 2013, at 10:55 AM PDT
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  28. Nathaniel Wright Inactive

    In the context of marriage, yes.

    It is the late age that is of concern.

    I understand the teachings and the moral problems of such situations, but there is the individual profound desire to love as well. Adoption is always an option, and is what my friend and her husband are most likely to do at present.

    • #28
    • July 2, 2013, at 11:25 AM PDT
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  29. Mark Reilly Member

    KC Mulville – nail on the head brother…

    I’d argue that most of the Catholic church’s opposition to “modern” ideas about sexuality is based on modernity’s trend of separating sexuality and child-bearing into disconnected pieces. The church wants families to generate children and raise them … not doing one or the other, but insisting on the whole process.

    That about sums it up. Another way to put it: Catholic teaching on IVF is the flip-side of the same coin that has Catholic teaching on contraception. Sex and babies go together. Contraception is sex without babies . . . IVF is babies without sex. Dis-integrate this act from its natural consequence (from either side of the equation), and the result is a disintegrated society in general. It may not be so obvious or instantaneous between cause and effect, but it is this dis-integration and its corrosive social and de-humanizing effects that the Church warns against.

    Aldous Huxley (Brave New World) figured that one out years ago, and drew a frightening portrait of a world and culture in which babies are “manufactured” and couples just have sex for fun – and he wasn’t even Catholic!

    • #29
    • July 2, 2013, at 11:26 AM PDT
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  30. Mate De Inactive

    I put up a post in March about a surrogate who refused to have an abortion when the couple who contracted with her found out the child had severe health problems. A story like this one makes me hesitant about surrogacy.

    I don’t think it should be banned, however I do think the medical community needs to do some serious debating of the ethics of fertility treatments.

    https://ricochet.com/member-feed/Thoughts-on-the-story-of-the-surrogate-who-refused-an-abortion

    • #30
    • July 2, 2013, at 11:44 AM PDT
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