I I had long suspected that something was “not quite right” with surrogacy, but having never experienced much of a maternal wavering, I didn’t feel confident to take a strong stand against it. On Saturday, any apprehensions I had about criticizing the fertility industry were shot down and then buried by the speakers at the Surrogacy: misdeeds and humans conference. From radical lesbian feminists to conservatives and Christians, a range of passionate and committed people have expressed the devastating impact of surrogacy on children, mothers, families and society at large.
The conference was organized by the feminist group Object, whose director Janice Williams told me she views surrogacy as both a form of “sexual exploitation” and “child trafficking.” For Williams, the event was significant because “the media coverage is so sanitized and glamorous and one-sided.” It is true that in recent years a vast public relations operation has emerged to sell surrogacy.
Just as with other technological innovations that undermine women’s rights, the drive to normalize surrogacy and egg donation has wrapped in rainbows. Stop Surrogacy Now founder Lexi Ellingsworth has revealed that when the Law Society in the UK was instructed to undertake consultation ahead of a proposed relaxation of the law, it was announced almost exclusively in the press male gay. Those who will (literally) bear the burden of legal change have been ignored, and instead surrogacy has been branded by the Law Commission as an issue primarily concerning the “right” of gay men to “found families.” “.
After the lecture, Ellingsworth said to me:
“As was the case with the recent gender recognition law reform proposal, it seemed to me that the voice of women was missing in the design of the public consultation. We are all stakeholders in our laws and the process of reform should not be limited to those who benefit from it, such as surrogacy agencies, family lawyers and fertility clinics… For too long we have been fed this idea that surrogacy law is old-fashioned, outdated, and not aligned with modern life. I have seen this same media message in other countries proposing the same reform of the same laws.
And it is true that laws legalizing surrogacy, both so-called “altruistic” and commercial, are being put in place around the world. In each case, the message is the same – that bearing a child for people who desperately want to be parents is the ultimate altruistic act, and those who oppose change are backward and bigoted. Powerful patriarchal scripts that remind women that it is our duty to sacrifice have been weaponized for these purposes.
It was part of what persuaded Kelly, a woman with a history of trauma and living in poverty, to make the decision to sign a contract and become a surrogate. In the movie Great FertilityProduced by Jennifer Lahl, Founder and President of the Center for Bioethics and Culture Network, Kelly recalls:
“the lady on the phone convinced me. She said they were an amazing married couple and people didn’t want to help them because they were gay…it felt a bit like a guilt trip on the agency’s part.
Kelly delivered five babies, all of whom were taken after birth; she developed preeclampsia and narrowly avoided death after giving birth to twins. The “sponsoring parents” were furious because they had paid extra to have an embryo of each sex implanted in Kelly’s womb. The two premature but healthy babies were deemed a defective product.
Much like in the sex industry, poverty, trauma and bodily dissociation characterize the stories of those who become surrogates. And as with prostitution, women who agree to have their bodies used often find themselves scrutinized – facing a loss of income if they refuse to abide by contracts that may stipulate how they give birth and what they eat. In the baby business, nifty agencies with hopeful names like “Brilliant Beginnings,” “Creative Family Connections,” and “Growing Families” play the role of pimp.
And the surrogacy market is growing. It is a fact that the hundreds of thousands of people fed by gender identity clinics will emerge infertile. They have been identified as a potential market by the fertility industry; indeed, the world’s most famous “trans child”, Jazz Jennings, a boy whose transition was televised, has suggested that his sister could act as a surrogate.
In the UK, trans lobby groups are pushing for sperm and eggs to be stored by the NHS before mutilating hormone and surgical treatments that render people infertile. Mermaids, a controversial British charity that lobbies for early medical intervention to treat children with gender dysphoria, has started advocating for changes to surrogacy law. Mermaid boss Jake Graf and Stonewall adviser Hannah Graf, a married couple who both identify as “trans,” were the subject of a documentary titled “Our Baby; a modern miracle” about their use of a woman’s body to grow a child. The film was billed as “a journey through prejudice and surrogacy to a birth”. The surrogacy industry not only turns mothers into factories, it turns children into products; expensive accessories to outfit nurseries and fulfill the fantasies of wealthy buyers like the Grafs.
There is a temptation in today’s radical feminist activism to refer to upcoming issues as “the next trans” or “the next sex industry.” But the truth is that all attempts to reduce the humanity of women overlap, after all they come from the same misogynistic source. Whether they are considered “holes” as in prostitution and pornography or “gestational carriers” in surrogacy, the goal is to remind women of our duty.
Make no mistake, the fertility industry is big, powerful, and its public relations are alluring. Just as with the sex trade, a goal and a price were imposed on our daughters. But on a human level, we all know that it is wrong to separate babies from their mothers and that humans should not be bought or sold.
Saturday’s conference speakers clung to this truth; they may have come from different ideological positions, but each of them rejected the idea that life can be bought. Because to do otherwise not only reduces surrogates to breeding stock, it takes away everything that it is to be human.
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