The Voice Not Heard in Surrogacy Is the Child’s
The devastating consequences of treating children like commodities and the women who carry them as subordinates.
After Toni Bare gave birth prematurely to twins in 2016, she was able to spend time nurturing them in Iowa City, Iowa — a rare opportunity for surrogate mothers who are often required to give up the babies soon after they’ve given birth.
Bare and her husband had stopped contact with the intended parents after their verbal abuse and harassment caused Bare to go into labor at 25 weeks.
The babies each weighed less than 2 pounds at birth, and one died a week later. But for the next two months Bare stayed close to the other little girl and breast-fed her.
When the baby had reached a healthy weight, someone from the sheriff’s office showed up in her hospital room with legal papers from the intended parents. Not long after that, Bare was forced to leave the hospital and hasn’t seen the child since.
The experience is still a source of emotional pain, though Bare has found comfort in God. “If it wasn’t for God, I don’t think I’d be able to sit still,” she said. “When I wanted to just fight, in other ways I had a calmness over me. I was able to stay calm and just listen to him.”
Bare now warns women about surrogacy problems she wasn’t aware of when she agreed to gestate an embryo created with another woman’s egg and the intended father’s sperm. The practice, known as gestational surrogacy, differs from traditional surrogacy in which the surrogate’s egg is fertilized.
“I just hope that when these women decide to do this that they really look at the warning signs,” Bare said. “I did not know that I could die from carrying someone else’s child.”
The billion-dollar global commercial gestational surrogacy industry expanded into New York state last month as a new law was enacted that boasts strong protections for intended parents and surrogates but makes few provisions for the children.
“The worst part of this bill is that rights of the child aren’t even alluded to,” said Jennifer Roback Morse, founder and president of the Lake Charles, La.-based Ruth Institute, a global interfaith coalition defending the family. “The child has no right to a relationship with his or her biological parents, whom the law callously refers to as ‘gamete providers.”
While surrogacy continues to grow, some countries have stopped or limited the practice they say is exploitive, and the U.S. bishops have issued a statement against it. Surrogacy, called “one of largest social experiments of our time,” is also contributing to human trafficking, according to experts.
New York’s law ensures all parties provide informed consent and creates a “surrogates’ bill of rights” involving health insurance, legal counsel and other provision for women under surrogacy contracts.
The state is one of the last to permit commercial surrogacy. Surrogacy and related legal issues are under state jurisdiction and vary widely. Michigan is the only state that doesn’t recognize legal surrogacy contracts and imposes criminal penalties on those engaging in the practice, said Jennifer Lahl, founder and president of the Pleasant Hill, Calif.-based Center for Bioethics and Culture Network.
New York enters a global surrogacy market expected to surpass $27 billion by 2025, according to Global Market Insights. At the same time, countries in Europe and Asia no longer allow surrogacy overall for foreigners. Russia, Ukraine and some Eastern European countries continue to permit commercial surrogacy, while the practice is largely unregulated in parts of Africa, according to the BBC. China and Japan have banned surrogacy.
Because surrogacy is still relatively new, the long-term effects haven’t yet been quantified, said Kathleen Gallagher, director for pro-life activities at the New York State Catholic Conference.
Harms to Children
Study on bonding and post-natal separation shows that just after birth is the period in a person’s life outside the womb when they are most in need of compassion and care, according to Catherine Lynch, author of the paper “What Adoption Can Teach Us About Altruistic Surrogacy: Canvassing Neonatal Experience.” Lynch is president of Adoptee Rights Australia, Inc. and researches child protection, adoption and surrogacy.
While surrogate mothers often have limited contact with the child or children after birth, human studies have shown that even short-term maternal-neonate separation stresses babies and can cause dramatic heart rate variability and lower quiet sleep duration, she wrote.
Trauma associated with early loss of a parent/caregiver also can affect learning, behavior and health, according to Lynch.
Though children are often separated at birth from their surrogate mothers, many states prohibit the separation of puppies from their mother before they are 8 weeks old, according to AnimalLaw.info.
Besides the lack of bonding, children of surrogacy are at greater risk because multiple embryos are often implanted to ensure a survivor. And embryos that are deemed “surplus” are subsequently killed in the womb by abortions that are euphemistically described as “selective reductions.”
Children conceived through assisted reproductive technology have experienced stillbirth, preterm birth, cerebral palsy, birth defects and other problems, according to the Ruth Institute.
A child born through surrogacy could have up to five parents — a gestational mother, genetic mother and father and legally recognized parents. “With or without the documentation, figuring out who you are is a mess from the child’s perspective,” Morse said.
Many children who have been lied to about their origin eventually discover the truth, Lahl said. “What does that do when you know you were lied to?”
Children’s moral right to be parented by their gestational mother “emanates from a pre-existing embodied relationship, the destruction of which damages both mother and child,” Lynch wrote.
Children deserve to know where they came from, to be raised by a mother and father and to not be manufactured, bought or sold, Gallagher said. Surrogacy is opposed to Church teaching because “it divides conception from gestation and from childrenrearing and it intentionally separates children from one or all of their biological parents,” she said.
The U.S. bishops said in their 2009 statement: “The child resulting from [surrogacy] arrangements is not the fruit of the spouses’ commitment to procreate only with and through one another. In an important sense, the spouses have decided not to be fully the mother and father of their child, because they have delegated part of their role to others. The procreative aspect of their marital relationship is violated, just as its unitive aspect would be violated by sexual relations with a person outside the marriage.”
Harms to Surrogate Mothers
While surrogacy hurts the marriage relationship, women carrying children are dehumanized by being called “gestational carriers,” according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Poorer women and military wives who often become surrogates are desperate for the money, don’t understanding the risks and don’t think they will bond with the baby, Lahl said. Surrogates are paid between $25,000 to $60,000. Intended parents can pay $300,000, depending on the number of fertilization attempts.
Commodifying children will change society’s attitude toward them, just as legalized abortion changed attitudes about developing children, Gallagher said. Increased human trafficking may be a consequence. “That’s why [surrogacy] is being banned in South America and other countries because it does lead to trafficking of women and children,” Gallagher said.
Online surrogacy providers claim surrogate mothers aren’t selling babies but are being compensated for being pregnant. However, the child is treated like a commodity, and this will increase, said Brian Clowes, director of research and training at Front Royal, Virginia-based Human Life International.
Surrogacy is part of a general coarsening of society, but we’re told we can’t judge and must be tolerant, Clowes said. “These evils grow almost unchecked, and everyone looks at them — and at first horrified — and shrugs ‘what can I do?’”
Catholics should speak up in opposition, Morse said. If they “don’t stand up and scream about this, no one will,” she said. “We better — because it’s a travesty.”
Surrogacy isn’t the only option, Bare said.
“People want their own child, I get that, but there are so many kids out there who can be adopted,” she said. “I would never have done this if I knew just a fraction of what I know now.”