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Women are More Than Incubators:
Why Surrogacy is Morally Problematic
Katie Breckenridge | 20 November 2019
This past summer, the heartbreaking tale of Bridget, a three-year-old born through surrogacy in Ukraine, was brought to our attention. Her American parents commissioned a Ukrainian surrogate to carry the baby, and when she was born with a range of disabilities, they abandoned her in Ukraine.[i] In other words, when their commissioned product, the child, was not born up to their standards, they abandoned her. The very practice of surrogacy allows for these situations to occur because surrogacy at its core is the commodification of children.
We have seen these types of situations multiple times, such as instances where “intended parents” request the termination of the child/children the surrogate is carrying. An instance in 2016, where a lesbian couple commissioned another lesbian friend to carry “their” child, showed another circumstance of an abandoned, less-than-perfect child. The surrogate used her own egg for this pregnancy, making her the biological mother of the child, but upon discovering that the child had the possibility of being born with deformities, the “intended parents” insisted on terminating this child’s life. The surrogate and her partner then decided to raise the child on their own.[ii] The child was, of course, the surrogate’s child all along. Since surrogacy allows for gamete donation, which allows for parenthood to be based on whoever feels that they are the child’s parent as opposed to biological reality, we get these situations where non-biological “parents” can insist that a woman terminate her own biological child under the belief that “this child is mine to terminate.” The surrogate was initially fine with intentionally feeling no attachment toward her own biological child, but the fact that she chose to keep the child shows that the initial suppression of her maternal instincts that surrogacy requires could not prevail over those instincts.
Not only does surrogacy commodify children, but it exploits the reproductive abilities of women. The practice of surrogacy shows no regard for pregnancy being the first step of motherhood, but makes a woman’s womb an object for our use and renders pregnancy nothing more than incubation and women nothing more than ovens. We often see those “cute” pictures of “intended parents” and surrogates showing signs saying “their bun, my oven,” [iii] and it is unfathomable how one can look at these images and not see the undignified treatment of a woman as an incubating object and the distortion of motherhood taking place. A surrogate’s main objective is to grow a healthy baby and deliver the product back to the consumers that have rented her entire body for their means. Pregnancy is not the act of a woman being an “oven,” but the initial nurturing stage of motherhood, where the bond between mother and child is formed and carries on into eternity. When we reduce pregnancy to anything less than a special moment between a husband and wife that bears as fruit a child formed from the man and woman’s own bodies, but as a means to get what we want, we get a myriad of distorted situations that elevate the selfish desires of adults, such as couples using an egg donor and multiple surrogates at once, [iv] or intentionally entering co-parenting situations with someone with whom one has never had a romantic attachment.[v]
An extreme larger version of surrogacy was the existence of surrogate houses in India, which exploited poor women in need of finances for housing and other means. India decided to ban commercial surrogacy for foreigners in 2019,[vi] but the very existence of these houses shows that exploitation is at the core of surrogacy. These surrogacy houses required the women to leave their husbands and children and to stay in the houses throughout the duration of their pregnancies until their commissioning “intended parents,” usually from other countries, came to pick up their children after birth. One of the surrogates, who gave birth to twins, was required to stay in the facility and take care of the babies for two weeks while she waited for the “intended parents” to come. She stated that she had to suppress her thoughts of her being the mother of the children as she was taking care of them, as doing this saddened her and tempted her to start crying. Again, this shows the unnatural suppression of the natural law of motherhood required for surrogacy that surrogates subject themselves to willingly in the name of “helping others,” or, in this case, to provide for themselves financially.[vii]
Simply because more laws have been enacted in regards to surrogacy in India does not mean that international exploitation does not still exist, as we have seen in Ukraine. There is still much work to be done to educate others not only about why surrogacy should be illegal abroad but domestically. We must shift the cultural mindset that surrogacy is a “nice act to do for someone,” it is “an effective way to build a family,” a surrogate is “simply a babysitter,” and “it is successful for so many couples,“ so therefore it must be moral. If a woman on the street allows others to use her body for their own selfish benefit, we have a name for this: prostitution.
Surrogacy takes prostitution’s blatant disregard for respect of a woman’s body one step further by risking unnecessary attachment issues in children, which are already an issue in adoptees. It is proven that the brains of infants react strongly to their mothers’ voices. Certain regions of their brains respond more strongly to their mothers’ voices than those of other women, and they prefer it to other voices, as the mother’s voice is the first voice that a child hears. Newborns know that this is the woman that they have known from the beginning of their lives, the woman that they can rely on for emotional nurturing and sustenance.[viii] As Nancy Verrier discusses in her book “Primal Wound,” no matter the logical reasons for the relinquishing of the infant, the infant still experiences this separation as abandonment and recognizes the non-birth mother as an imposter of the woman with whom he or she has spent their life so far.[ix] In surrogacy situations, the child, from before conception, is planned to be intentionally separated from this attachment and the comfort of his or her birth mother’s voice, and we suddenly pretend that this prenatal bond is not important to the infant because the carrier is “nothing but a babysitter.”
Not only does surrogacy always involve embryonic transfer and the hazards of trial and error with human embryonic lives that this entails, the risk of destruction or frozen limbo for these humans, selective reduction, commodification of the most innocent human beings, and intentionally broken bonds of attachment, but a culture that is focused on eliminating the objectification of women and promoting equal respect among the sexes should not condone surrogacy.[x] Women seeking dignity and equality should not allow their body’s abilities to create human life to become a dehumanizing breeding service from which others benefit, while intentionally denying the miraculous, spiritual bond that takes place between a mother and child at the moment of fertilization.
[ix] Verrier, N. N. (1993) Primal Wound. Baltimore, MD: Gateway Press
Katie Breckenridge, Operations Manager, Them Before Us