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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.