Surrogate Motherhood: A Feminist Issue?

By Liza Doubossarskaia, NOW Communications Intern

Recently, a practice that is illegal throughout most of the world has become quite popular in the United States. That practice is surrogacy — a contractual process by which a woman agrees to carry a pregnancy to term and deliver a child to parents who are unable to conceive by traditional means. Some view surrogacy as a beneficial scientific development, while others see it as an affront to ethical standards.

Little legislation exists pertaining to the legality of surrogate parenting in the United Sates, which allows the practice to exist as a viable business. According to the American Society for Reproductive Medicine, there was a 30 percent rise in surrogate births between 2004 and 2006. Hopeful parents can hire a surrogate through one of the numerous agencies dedicated to matching surrogate mothers with intended parents. A usual fee for surrogate services is around $20,000 — excluding medical expenses.

However, while a number of women find monetary compensation to be an attractive incentive, most insist that their primary motivation for offering surrogate services is altruistic. One surrogate explained to Newsweek magazine that she found surrogacy to be a meaningful and fulfilling experience because she was able to gift another family with a child. Another surrogate, in her interview with Newsweek, stated, “I felt like, ‘What else am I going to do with my life that means so much?'” Moreover, many surrogate mothers find the claim that they’re in the business only for money objectionable. After all, if you break down the $20,000 tag, it turns out that a surrogate mother is paid about $3 an hour to carry a full-term pregnancy — a low salary even by minimum wage standards.

If surrogates are happy with their job and childless parents are given a chance to have biological offspring, what’s the big fuss?

For starters, critics of surrogacy raise concerns that the practice endorses class inequality and exploitation of poor women. Most of the time, the intended parents come from affluent backgrounds, while surrogate mothers are women of modest income. Then, there are the ethical and legal questions to consider. Does surrogacy devalue the mother-child relationship? What happens if a surrogate mother is unwilling to part with the child after birth? Is it acceptable for a woman to rent out her body even if it is to help someone less fortunate? Various complications can develop during pregnancy and childbirth, making this a potentially risky proposition for the life, health and future childbearing ability of any woman who serves as a surrogate. Not to mention the artificial insemination procedure, which is often part of the process and comes with its own set of possible health repercussions.

Finally, due to its unregulated nature, the surrogacy business is ripe for fraud and deceit. Take for instance the case of SurroGenesis — a surrogate company that vanished and pocketed the money intended to cover surrogates’ health insurance. SurroGenesis’ clients were left stranded with a pile of medical bills and nowhere to turn.

Should surrogacy be viewed as a legitimate branch of assisted reproductive technology and receive more governmental regulation to protect intended parents and surrogates? Is surrogacy an exploitation of women’s bodies that should be stopped? Tell us what you think.

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