The story of, Louise Pollard, a surrogate mother who pretended she was pregnant and then faked having miscarriages to take thousands of pounds from couples has brought surrogacy back into the news. But how ethical is to use another person’s womb to carry your child?
Breeders, incubators, ovens. These are all new derogatory terms for women. A rise in the practice of surrogacy means women are increasingly being seen as walking wombs. But where is the feminist outrage at surrogacy?
Surrogacy is legal in the UK so long as a surrogate doesn’t receive payment beyond the expenses she has incurred being pregnant, and so long as she doesn’t advertise or respond to an advert.
It remains illegal for a third party to broker surrogacy for a fee but many agencies exist which aim to put surrogates in touch with ‘IPs’ – what those in the business call ‘Intended Parents’.
There are two types of surrogacy. Traditional surrogacy is where the surrogate is inseminated with sperm from the intended father, meaning that she will be the baby’s genetic mother but consents to give the child away at birth to be raised by the IPs.
Gestational surrogacy is when IVF is used, either with eggs from a donor or from an IP, so the surrogate is not related to the baby.
A fertilized embryo is then implanted in the surrogate, but often in practice multiple embryos are transferred and the surrogate might have to undergo selective abortion.
When things go wrong, it’s a legal minefield. Take the case of ‘Baby S’ in the US, diagnosed in utero with a cleft palate and heart defects, possibly as a result of having been frozen as an embryo and then thawed for implantation into surrogate Crystal Kelley.
Baby S’s IPs wanted Crystal to abort, finally offering her a $10,000 bribe after coercive calls and letters failed, but Crystal fled to a state where surrogates have parental rights, and found some adoptive parents willing to take on Baby S’s disabilities.
The issue of parental rights is complex. In the UK the woman who gives birth to the child is treated as the legal mother and has the right to keep the child, even if not genetically related.
If she has a husband or civil partner he is automatically the child’s legal father.
IPs must then apply for a ‘Parental Order’ six weeks after birth. The surrogate and her partner (if there is one) must agree to the making of the order and once granted all parental rights pass to the IPs.
Once the parental order is made, a new birth certificate is issued naming the IPs as parents, completely replacing the old certificate.
What this means in practice is that IPs go to countries or states where surrogates don’t have parental rights, and they seek single women.
If the child is born to a surrogate who is single, the child has a claim to British nationality if the intended father is British and has a genetic link to the child.
If the surrogate is married, IPs have to apply to register the child as a British citizen under the British Nationality Act, which means a lot more form filling.
Why aren’t feminists outraged to hear women referred to as ‘breeders’? Where is the righteous indignation that women are being reduced to eggs and wombs, functional machines for the production of children?
Quite apart from ethical considerations about the destruction of embryos and the rights of the child itself, surrogacy amounts to the wholesale denial of the office of motherhood.
It infers the lie that pregnancy creates no maternal bond for the good of mother and child, despite all evidence to the contrary.
A recent study at the University of London found pregnancy increases activity in the area of the brain related to emotional skills, ensuring mothers are neurologically prepared to bond with their baby at birth.
Yet in order to buy into the myth that surrogacy is morally acceptable – or as one surrogacy website puts it, “Everyone has the right to have a child”– more and more women are prepared to deny that breaking the maternal bond at birth has any effect on the emotional and physical wellbeing of mother and baby.
The logical extension is a rise in ‘social surrogacy’, where women who are physically able to have children are opting to use surrogates in order to protect their bodies and/or careers.
Perversely, some see social surrogacy as furthering the aims of feminism in that it allows women to advance in traditionally masculine spheres because there’s no need to take ‘the baby penalty’.
It allows women the agency naturally granted to men.
But feminism will contradict itself if it appropriates masculine agency. Hence a feminism that has nothing to say against surrogacy.
A genuinely pro-woman culture can only be created when fertility is accepted as an integral part of a woman’s personhood.
Women are persons not walking wombs, and any practice that turns women into mere breeders is antithetical to women’s rights. So, where’s the sisterhood?