Do we need a global ban on surrogacy?

Commercial surrogacy is not just an ethically controversial way of making babies; it is also a huge international industry. According to SkyQuest Technology Group, a market research company, it was worth about US$16 billion in 2023 and is predicted to rise to US$75 billion by 2031. SkyQuest attributes the vigorous growth of the industry to “increasing infertility rates, advancements in assisted reproductive technologies, changing societal norms, and a growing acceptance of non-traditional family structures”.

Although glowing images of gurgling babies decorate the websites of surrogacy agencies, there is a dark side to the industry, a very dark side. Each baby has a mother who carries the child for nine months, with all the risks of a pregnancy. Women who sign up for this kind of “work” do not live in Manhattan or Beverly Hills. They are recruited in those American states where commercial surrogacy is legal and in impoverished countries like Mexico, Guatemala, Ukraine, Cyprus, Greece, Kenya, and Cambodia.

The potential for exploiting needy women is obvious.

Nor do advocates of surrogacy consider the rights of the child. Apart from the deep biological bonds between a baby and the woman who carried the child in her womb, surrogacy is legally problematic. Article 7 of the international Convention on the Rights of the Child states that “as far as possible”, a child must have “the right to know and be cared for by his or her parents”. Surrogacy ignores that right.

Advocates of the rights of women and children have responded to the growing demand for surrogacy with demands for a global ban. The Vatican recently released a white paper on human dignity, Dignitas Infinita. It quotes Pope Francis: “A child is always a gift and never the basis of a commercial contract. Consequently, I express my hope for an effort by the international community to prohibit this practice universally.”

Italy’s Senate is currently studying a bill which would criminalise surrogacy. Prime Minister, Giorgia Meloni has blasted it as an “inhuman practice”. Addressing a government-sponsored conference on boosting her country’s below-replacement birth rate earlies this month, Meloni said: “I support the bill that makes it a universal crime.”

In her characteristically combative style, Meloni framed the surrogacy issue as a demand by the gay lobby which necessarily exploits poor women. She was savage.

“[S]ome go so far as to deny that bringing a child into the world requires a man and a woman and, when faced with the facts, they think they can resolve the matter by perhaps fuelling a transnational market that exploits the bodies of poor women and turns children into a commodity, passing this off as an act of love or an act of freedom … No one can convince me that it is an act of freedom to rent out your womb; no one can convince me that it is an act of love to consider children to be like an over-the-counter product in a supermarket.”

And a two-day conference in Rome earlier this month was devoted to a detailed critique of international surrogacy. Organised by an international movement called the Casablanca Declaration, it was also lobbying for a global ban. Speakers contended that surrogacy violates United Nations conventions protecting the rights of the child and the surrogate mother. Discussions centred on whether there is a fundamental right to have a child, or whether the rights of children are more important than the desires of the commissioning parents.



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A spokeswoman for the conference and a stand-out speaker was Olivia Maurel, a 33-year-old French-American mother of three who was born from surrogacy. She attributes a lifetime of wrestling with mental health issues to what she called “the trauma of abandonment.”

“There is no right to have a child,” Maurel told the conference. “But children do have rights, and we can say surrogacy violates many of these rights.”

Campaigners for a ban on surrogacy will have a fight on their hands. The Economist, ever a weathervane for elite opinion, defends commercial surrogacy as a good deal for poor women and a source of happiness for infertile couples. It has argued that regulation will make everyone happy:

“Better to regulate it properly, and insist that parents returning home with a child born to a surrogate abroad can prove that their babies have been obtained legally and fairly. Becoming a parent should be a joy, not an offence.”

In this spirit, the American state of Michigan recently passed a law legalising commercial surrogacy. Governor Gretchen Whitmer described it as "a package of common sense, long overdue changes to remove criminal prohibitions on surrogacy, to protect families formed by IVF (In vitro fertilization) and to ensure LGBTQ+ parents are treated equally."

These words are telling. She didn’t invoke the anguish of married couples who long for children and are thwarted by infertility. Instead, she was trying to please gay couples.

Surrogacy advocates highlight the anguish of infertility. But that no longer means what it once did. The American Society for Reproductive Medicine recently redefined infertility to include the “social infertility” of gay couples, gay singles, heterosexual singles, septuagenarian couples, and pretty much anyone who wants a baby but won’t or can’t get married.

Prime Minister Melon is on the money. It appears that about half of babies born to surrogate mothers nowadays are being adopted by gay couples. There have been almost no detailed studies of the surrogacy industry, so it is hard to know for sure. But one agency for international surrogacy told Mercator that the sexual orientation of his clients was split half and half between heterosexual and same-sex intended parents.

Tellingly, the loudest protests against Prime Minister Meloni’s proposal to ban surrogacy have come from gay parents and LGBT organisations.

But it’s time that politicians listened to the children created through these arrangements. Olivia Maurel put their case in an article published earlier this year:

I’ve been moved to tears by the messages I have had from women who tell me how deeply they regret their decisions to be surrogates and how they pine for the babies they gave up. We can only protect women like them — and the babies they have — if we ban all forms of surrogacy, including so-called altruistic surrogacy.  

Would you support a ban on all surrogacy? Tell us in the comment box below.

Michael Cook is editor of Mercator.

Image credit: Bigstock


Showing 6 reactions

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  • David Page
    commented 2024-04-23 09:58:38 +1000
    Perhaps. But whenever I am certain about something I turn out to be wrong.
  • Michael Cook
    commented 2024-04-23 09:01:34 +1000
    I believe it is to all surrogacy, although commercial surrogacy — which seems to be much bigger — is even more objectionable.
  • David Page
    commented 2024-04-23 08:59:30 +1000
    Is the objection here to surrogacy, or commercial surrogacy? I think it is an important distinction.
  • mrscracker
  • Fabio Paolo
    commented 2024-04-20 02:02:37 +1000
    I approve very little of what the Meloni government has done, but if they manage to put a full, legal prohibition of this criminal activity in the Italian penal code, I will be on my feet cheering, then on my knees giving thanks.
  • Michael Cook
    published this page in The Latest 2024-04-19 23:20:21 +1000