Surrogacy debate: Ask surrogate mothers before demonizing them

On May 26, 2013, an opinion piece published in the Washington Post on behalf of Kathleen Parker attempted to debase assisted reproduction in the United States by Steven_Snyder imagetargeting surrogate mothers and prospective parents while demonizing a practice that can offer profound, life-changing happiness and satisfaction to millions of couples unable to conceive.

In her op-ed, “Surrogacy exposed”, Parker spent a significant amount of time evangelizing the opinions of Kathy Sloan, a National Organization of Women (NOW) board member. Sloan’s opinions are apparently her personal opinions since, to my knowledge, NOW has adopted no formal position regarding surrogacy. Based on those conversations with a single surrogacy opponent, Parker implicitly advances the proposition that surrogacy can “convincingly be viewed as the exploitation and commodification of women, and the violation of human rights…”  I take pause to wonder, how many actual surrogates did Parker interview before drawing these conclusions?

I have worked in surrogacy as an attorney for nearly 25 years. In two and a half decades, I have worked closely with and spoken to literally hundreds of women acting as surrogates. Not a single one fits the profile that Parker blankets onto surrogates in general. These surrogates, who come from middle and upper class families with children, have acted with a consistent desire to help infertile couples suffering from uterine infertility issues. Although most (but not all) have received some sort of compensation for their remarkable time and effort, that compensation—no more than what daycare providers earn caring for working parents’ children—has very rarely been their primary incentive.

In addition, my personal experience indicates that Sloan’s assertion that nearly half of surrogates are military wives is obsolete and inaccurate by at least several years. I am currently working in programs with scores of surrogates, none of whom are military wives.

The surrogates I work with speak of surrogacy in glowing terms. They often characterize it as THE positive, defining moment of their lives. They are proud of what they do, and they feel affirmed by it. The few surrogates who criticize the process are typically those who self-match and go through the surrogacy process without guidelines and protections afforded by working with experienced physicians, psychologists, and attorneys. For every single surrogate who voices a negative experience, I can point you to a hundred who describe it as an emotionally rewarding and fulfilling family-building experience. Parker has simply failed to gather the necessary information on which to base rational, reasonable conclusions.

I am somewhat surprised that Sloan is criticizing surrogacy based on the “exploitation of women” argument. Her folly was directly addressed and quickly brushed aside by the California Supreme Court in the first contested surrogacy case in California, Johnson v. Calvert, in which the Court stated:

“The argument that a woman cannot knowingly and intelligently agree to gestate and deliver a baby for intending parents carries overtones of the reasoning that for centuries prevented women from attaining equal economic rights and professional status under the law. To resurrect this view is both to foreclose a personal and economic choice on the part of the surrogate mother, and to deny intending parents what may be their only means of procreating a child of their own genetic stock. Certainly in the present case it cannot seriously be argued that Anna, a licensed vocational nurse who had done well in school and who had previously borne a child, lacked the intellectual wherewithal or life experience necessary to make an informed decision to enter into the surrogacy contract.”

We have seen various waves of feminism over many decades. There are those who simply believe feminism is “sex equality,” those who believe that women should not be defined by their reproductive capacity (generally, surrogacy opponents), and those who believe a woman’s true equality lies with her right to self-determination despite her reproductive capacity (often, surrogacy supporters). The women I know who are surrogates do not believe that anyone else should tell them what to do. They feel capable and empowered to decide for themselves.

My wife is not a surrogate, but she is a feminist. If I even suggested to my wife that someone else should protect her from herself and limit her own decisions, she would simply glare at me with that cold stare that says, “I am independent and competent. I can very well take care of myself, thank you.”  Twenty-five years of working with surrogate mothers tells me they would  express the same sentiment to Sloan and Parker. All they need to do is ask!

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