A New Form of Women’s Oppression
Swedish journalist and feminist Kajsa Ekis Ekman, author of ‘Being and Being Bought: Prostitution, Surrogacy and the Split Self’ will be speaking at the Festival of Dangerous Ideas on the weekend. I’m looking forward to hearing her – and meeting her. This piece appears on the Festival of Dangerous Ideas site.
Stop Surrogacy Before it’s too late: Surrogacy doesn’t liberate us from biological constraints – it turns women’s bodies into factories.
What do Elton John, Sarah Jessica Parker, Ricky Martin and Nicole Kidman have in common? The answer — happily reported by celebrity site Glamour Magazine — is that all had babies with the help of surrogate mothers. And these stories are invariably accompanied by photos of the couples holding their babies and beaming with joy. Well, if you asked me, I ‘d answer rather differently — they are all participating in reproductive prostitution and child trafficking.
Surrogacy — or ‘contract pregnancy’ — involves a woman being either inseminated or having an embryo implanted in her uterus. When she gives birth nine months later, she surrenders the child to the commissioning parents — and almost always in exchange for money. Since the 1970s, over 25,000 babies have been born in the USA via surrogacy. But the practice is increasingly outsourced to countries like India, Ukraine, Thailand and Mexico. In India alone, the surrogacy industry is valued at over 450 million USD per year. Countries all over the world are faced with the question: ban or regulate surrogacy?
(Illustration by Daniel Gray)
The media mostly portrays surrogacy as a win-win situation: childless couples can fulfil their dream for a child, and poor women can earn money by helping others. Hello! magazine showcases Elton John saying that surrogacy “completes our family in the most precious and perfect way.” Vanity Fair features Ricky Martin and his twins, declaring: “I would give my life for the woman who helped me bring my sons into this world.” And Nicole Kidman comments: “Our family is truly blessed … No words can adequately convey the incredible gratitude that we feel for everyone … in particular our gestational carrier.” Martin and Kidman conspicuously avoid the word ‘mother’ when speaking about the women who bore children for them. The gratitude of the recipients of the surrogacy arrangements is paraded as success, but ultimately disguises the inherent power inequity in the arrangement: the parent is the one who pays, not the one who bears the child. Read more
Her book can be purchased from Spinifex Press.
Reject commercial surrogacy as another form of human trafficking
The practice of reproductive surrogacy is in the news in Australia because of the story of a Thai child, Gammy, a twin who was apparently abandoned by the buyers because he was sick. They took his healthy sister.
This story should not be seen as just an individual bad news story. It has much to tell us about the effects of commercial surrogacy. This industry is an offshoot of the very profitable reproductive technology industry, which created, through IVF, the possibility of persons buying children in the marketplace.
The surrogacy industry has created the trafficking in women for the use of their wombs. In extreme forms it includes the imprisonment of women in slave camps. It trafficks babies from one continent to another.
The result is that children can be rejected, left over or abandoned like the sofa that buyers decided was in the end not the right colour. Children have become goods to be traded.
Discussion of surrogacy usually revolves around the rights of the buyers and how the industry can be better regulated. The debate should be about whether such a harmful industry should be permitted at all. Read more
Baby Gammy has shown the need for debate on surrogacy
Dr Renate Klein
As the fallout from baby Gammy continues and Thailand moves to make commercial surrogacy illegal, calls are intensifying for Australia to legalise paid surrogacy with a ‘carefully designed system’ as columnist Julie Szego proposed on these pages last week.
As a critic of the IVF industry for three decades, my solution is very different. Rather than regulating a system that commodifies the resulting child and invariably uses women as “containers” for carrying and birthing a baby they are taught to say is not theirs, we need to focus on the demand for surrogacy and try to reduce it.
How is it that there are 100 or more couples who are now in understandable despair because they don’t know what’s happening to the Thai women carrying “their” babies, or to their frozen embryos in clinics that have been closed down? Who is facilitating couples – gay and straight – who are intent on their own genetic child and have the money to pay going baby shopping overseas? Read more
See also: Surrogacy industry a return to the dark days, Melinda Tankard Reist, The Age, Sun Herald