The media are full of tender stories about how loving, infertile couples have found joy in attaining a child by surrogacy. However, the media never mention in this commentary the distress this social experiment is causing to the surrogate mothers, who are being exploited for this service in disadvantaged countries, as well as the harm caused to children born by these arrangements. Nor does the media mention that surrogacy is a multi-million-dollar business for those involved in the human trafficking networks that are behind many surrogacy operations around the world.
This procedure started with the development of complex new reproductive technologies, combined with the attitude that couples have a “right” to a child, even though it is based on unregulated medical clinics using unregulated technologies. This procedure has led to the exploitation of vulnerable, destitute, rural women serving well-to-do, infertile couples and same-sex couples in “reproduction for hire” schemes. Tragically, women and children are moved from one country to another to circumvent any restrictive laws. Organized crime is involved in some countries since this activity is so lucrative and, in many countries, is out of reach of police, as such procedures are legal.
According to WoMoGeS (Women’s Movements and Gestational Surrogacy), when scandals involving surrogacy tourism, including the abandonment of children, led India and Thailand to increase restrictions, the transnational, commercial surrogacy industry quickly moved to Nepal, Cambodia, Mexico, Colombia, and Nigeria to carry out its horrible undertaking. Further expansion to Ukraine, Republic of Georgia, Kenya, and Ghana have also ensued as more countries are now outlawing surrogacy.
In Nigeria, more than 20 “baby factories” were shut down in 2008. Recruiters had converted orphanages and hospitals in order to house women and girls from poor villages for commercial surrogacy. Women in these “baby farms” are repeatedly impregnated. The same “talent scout recruitment” methods used in prostitution are employed to recruit surrogate mothers. According to the anti-trafficking organization, Steadfast, the criminal element already involved in human trafficking for prostitution has found it an easy step to operate the more lucrative human reproduction market. Sometimes women are kidnapped into the surrogacy trafficking circuit. Babies are sold to infertile foreign and wealthy Nigerian couples, as well as on the black market.
In Mexico, the surrogacy market grew in areas where poor female migrants and indigenous women could be easily recruited. For example, as reported by WoMoGeS, in the State of Tabasco, foreign gay men make up 60-80% of total clients. The high incidence of abandoned children, medical complications, fraud, and suspicion of organized human-trafficking, have resulted in the government legislating restrictions, which limit clients to Mexican citizens only and married or heterosexual common-law couples.
The surrogacy procedure can cost up to $100,000 if performed in the U.S., whereas prospective parents can save up to 70% if they avail themselves of the service in developing countries. Generally, prices are lower where women are least able to meet the needs of their families because of poor socio-economic and cultural environments.
Health Risks for Mothers and Children
The high risks inherent in these artificial reproductive procedures are now well known. They include stressful pharmacological treatments to induce ovulation; multi-embryo implantation followed by the selective abortion of “excess” embryos; demonstrated higher risks s of miscarriages for surrogate mothers, gestational diabetes, pre-eclampsia, low birth weight babies; higher percentages of Caesarian deliveries to meet contract timetables; and unavailable access to post-natal care in developing countries.
Children can also suffer from the sudden removal of all emotional attachments formed in the womb, resulting in lower capacity to adjust; abandonment due to disease; and legal complications due to questions around parental citizenship status. Recent COVID travel restrictions have left babies stranded and parents unable to complete contractual exchanges.
The Canadian Experience
In 1989, REAL Women opposed surrogate motherhood when radical feminists lobbied for a commission to study artificial reproduction. In 1993, Canada’s $28 million dollar Royal Commission on New Medical Technologies recommended the prohibition of commercial surrogacy. In 2004, the Assisted Human Reproduction Act specifically prohibited the sale of eggs, sperm, and commercial surrogacy because it was regarded as selling human beings. However, it left the door open to voluntary surrogacy.
In 2018, Liberal MP Anthony Housefather, backed by advocates from Sacred Surrogacy Canada and the artificial reproduction industry, tabled a private member’s Bill C-404 to amend the Reproduction Act to permit the sale of sperm and eggs, and to permit legal commercial surrogacy. Fortunately, the bill did not succeed.
Canada, nevertheless, is still an international surrogacy destination, in line with our government’s socialist leanings, which provides “free” taxpayer funded surrogacy, via our high-quality health care system. Therefore, this provides very popular and inexpensive assistance for foreign couples, singles, and same-sex couples. Almost half of the children born to Canadian surrogate mothers in British Columbia are for parents who live outside Canada. Our medicare system covers pre-natal and post-natal complications which can cost up to $100,000. REAL Women recommended that surrogacy for foreign couples be prohibited. (See REALity, July/August and November/December 2018 for details).
Surrogacy Contrary to Foundational UN Conventions
Official approaches to commercial surrogacy range from demands for total abolition to regulation, to surrogacy as a human right. Surrogacy is sometimes presented by the extreme branches of feminism as female empowerment, boosting women’s autonomy and reproductive choice. Surrogacy is even promoted by some as maternal altruism, sacred surrogacy, and divine pregnancy, ignoring the terrible harms it causes to many surrogate mothers and children.
The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, Article 7, states that the child has “as far as possible, the right to know and be cared for by his or her parents”. Surrogacy marketing thoroughly disregards this fundamental right and turns infants into a commercial product for financial gain.
Some countries are officially rejecting surrogacy: e.g., in 2015, the European Parliament banned the practice of surrogacy as “exploitation of the female body and reproductive organs”.
In 2016, the 47-member Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE), for the third time, rejected legalized surrogacy throughout Europe.
A divided UNESCO Bio-Ethics Committee reported that surrogacy involves risks for women in developing countries, exploits surrogate mothers, is not in the best interest of the child, and is a danger to the central position of the family as an institution. However, some on the committee just wanted more regulations on the procedure.
The UNFPA (UN Population Fund) hesitates to condemn surrogacy because it promotes medical reproductive technologies as part of its core sexual health and rights principle. Global Affairs Canada generously funds UNFPA every year, amounting to $1.03 billion since 1994. Annual Canadian taxpayer funding for UNFPA has escalated from $38 million in fiscal year 2012, to $51 million in 2015, and reached $139 million taxpayer dollars in 2020 under Justin Trudeau’s feminist government. Family Watch International has exposed the UNFPA partnership with Planned Parenthood to advance abortion, early sexualization of children through comprehensive sex education, and promiscuity rights for youth. UNFPA is infamous for having supported Communist China’s draconian one-child policy which caused U.S. President Trump to withdraw financial support, although President Biden has now restored it.
Ending the Exploitation of Mothers and Children
There is a growing call to ban surrogacy worldwide. Active in opposing surrogacy trafficking are: Steadfast, working in the southern hemisphere; Women’s Movements and Gestational Surrogacy (WoMoGeS) at LUMSA (Libera Universita Maria SS Assunta) in Rome; Stop Surrogacy Now, U.S.A.; and C-FAM (Center for Family and Human Rights), New York. Over 250 organizations from 18 countries recently petitioned the UN General Assembly to ban surrogacy.
An encouraging collaborative report by Daniela Bandelli of WoMoGeS, Emmanuel Di Leo of Steadfast, and Stefano Gennarini of C-FAM, stated as follows:
Coalitions of feminist groups, pro-life and pro-family organizations, medical experts, bioethicists and even gay men and lesbian women who disagree with official pro-surrogacy positions of large LGBT advocacy organizations, increasingly describe surrogacy as a form of reproductive exploitation, a modern form of slavery, a form of violence against women, and a commodification of women’s and children’s bodies and the sale of children.
We couldn’t agree more.