WASHINGTON — A lack of information about the dangers of surrogate pregnancy could soon allow the practice to become legal in Washington, D.C., warned the founder of one bioethics organization.
“These issues aren’t on anyone’s radar,” said Jennifer Lahl, president of the Center for Bioethics and Culture. “By and large, people have accepted third-party reproduction. It’s not seen as controversial … because people are woefully misinformed.”
Lahl told Catholic News Agency that the average person sees nothing wrong with surrogacy, which is the practice of a woman carrying and delivering a baby for someone else. This could explain the lack of opposition to a new bill in the nation’s capital, she said.
Legislation introduced June 3 by D.C. Councilman David Catania would legalize surrogacy in the District. If passed, it would wipe away current local legislation prohibiting surrogacy contracts, which carry penalties of up to $10,000 in fines or a year in jail.
“I don't expect there to be any significant opposition,” Catania told the Washington Examiner. “This is about remedying what I believe to be an imperfection in our law.”
Lahl, who worked as a pediatric nurse for 20 years, said most people are unaware of the negative repercussions of surrogacy. She noted that concerns with legalized surrogacy include a lack of research in the field and a failure to consider the impact on the child and the woman whose womb is being “rented.”
One of the biggest concerns, she warned, is that the relationship between a mother and a child in her womb is ignored.
“So much is going on in that womb,” Lahl explained. “The surrogate mom and child will be linked genetically, and there’s so much we’re learning about genetic diseases and how much the womb plays into that child’s health.”
The connection is more than simply physical, she continued.
“Newborns know one thing — they know who their mother is,” she said. “I’ve known of mothers who sing to their children in the womb or read them books. What happens when you tell a mother to intentionally not bond with a child in their womb?”
California lawyer Stephanie Caballero handles surrogacy cases and says 30% of her clients are homosexual. She told the Washington Examiner that, with proper screening, money is not the only reason women decide to become surrogates.
“The first reason is because they want to help someone,” she said. “They do it [in part] because they love being pregnant.”
However, as part of a new documentary for the Center for Bioethics and Culture, Lahl has interviewed numerous women who were surrogate mothers. By and large, she said, surrogate women “are women who have financial need — wealthy women are going to be buying the surrogacy contract.”
Raising concerns over the practice of paying women in order to “rent” their bodies and produce children, Lahl argued that women and children end up being exploited.
Surrogacy comes in two forms: traditional surrogacy, when the surrogate mother’s own egg is fertilized and implanted in her womb, and gestational surrogacy, when the commissioning woman’s egg is fertilized and then implanted into the surrogate mother’s womb.
The bill proposed in D.C. allows for both kinds of surrogacy, though there is a legal tendency to favor gestational surrogacy, Lahl said.
“That is the way most surrogacy is moving,” she cautioned. “They don’t want the birth mother to claim any rights to the child; they want her to just be the ‘oven.’ They keep deconstructing who ‘owns’ that child.”
Lahl said this language of surrogacy law should be enough to cause people to pause.
“This is a contract; we’re discussing who ‘owns it’ — even though we’re dealing with a child,” she said.
“They’re only thinking about goods and services,” she warned. “Nobody’s thinking about the child.”