‘Rent-a-Womb’: Priyanka Chopra and Nick Jonas’ Choice Highlights How Surrogacy Financially Exploits Women

The news revealed an intersection between feminist perspectives and Catholic teaching.

Priyanka Chopra and Nick Jonas attend The Fashion Awards 2021 at Royal Albert Hall on November 29, 2021 in London, England.
Priyanka Chopra and Nick Jonas attend The Fashion Awards 2021 at Royal Albert Hall on November 29, 2021 in London, England. (photo: Lia Toby/BFC / GETTY)

The announcement, marked with a red heart, simply asked for privacy during a special time.

But Priyanka Chopra and Nick Jonas still collected more than three million “likes” and negative opinions on Twitter when, on Jan. 22, they announced the birth of their first child via surrogate. 

“Priyanka doesn't have any fertility issues preventing her from having a baby, but she is 39 now, so it's not getting any easier,” a source told the Daily Mail regarding the couple’s decision to use a surrogate. “Their busy work schedules also mean that it's difficult for them to physically be together to conceive when she is ovulating, so some time ago they went down the surrogacy route."

The news revealed the distinct intersection between feminist perspectives and Catholic teaching: the Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches that the use of a surrogate uterus is “gravely immoral,” and some figures in the feminist movement have expressed their distrust and revulsion towards surrogacy and its negative implications for women. 

After Chopra and Jonas’s announcement, feminist poet and novelist Taslima Nasreen took to Twitter to share her thoughts on surrogacy and particularly, wealthy couples’ use of it. 

“How do those mothers feel when they get their readymade babies through surrogacy?” she tweeted. “Do they have the same feelings for the babies like the mothers who give birth to the babies?”

“Body should not be for sale or rent,” she continued. “We sell our labour-power. But we must not allow invasion.”

“When women are forced to sell or rent out their vagina and uterus for being invaded, it is because of poverty, or for being financially dependent on others, it is of course NOT a ‘choice,’” Nasreen wrote in reaction to a contrary response she received. “If it was a ‘choice,’ rich & independent women would have this ‘choice,’ but they don't.”


Church Teaching

Surrogacy involves an arrangement whereby a woman agrees to bear someone else’s biological child and to surrender the child she has born at the time of birth, often in return for monetary compensation. 

The Catechism of the Catholic Church states that techniques like artificial insemination and fertilization, procedures that are involved in surrogacy, “infringe the child’s right to be born of a father and mother known to him and bound to each other by marriage.” 

“A child is not owed to one, but is a gift,” the Catechism also states. “A child may not be considered a piece of property, an idea to which an alleged ‘right to a child’ would lead.” 

Pope John Paul II’s “Letter to Women” includes acknowledgement of the beauty in simply being a woman, as well as an encouragement to mothers specifically. 

“Through the insight which is so much a part of your womanhood, you . . . help to make human relations more honest and authentic,” he said in the letter to women. “Thank you, women who are mothers! You have sheltered human beings within yourself in a unique experience of joy and travail.” 

The Catechism additionally states that by bearing children, man and woman uniquely co-operate with the work of Creator God. 

“This experience makes you become God's own smile upon the newborn child,” Pope John Paul II said in his letter. “The one who guides your child's first steps, who helps it to grow, and who is the anchor as the child makes its way along the journey of life.”


Unregulated and Dangerous?

Jennifer Roback Morse, founder of the Ruth Institute and frequent contributor to the Register, reacted to Nasreen’s tweets in a press release

The Ruth Institute describes surrogacy as degrading pregnancy to a service and a baby to a product. 

Morse “heartily agrees” with Nasreen’s assessment of surrogacy as exploitation of poor women.

“The multi-million-dollar surrogacy industry is fraught with peril and largely unregulated,” Morse said in the press release. “Once the surrogate child is born and ‘delivered’ to the commissioning parents, the natural attachment between mother and child is severed forever. Someday, the child may live with the knowledge that he was conceived and carried to term as a favor or for money, what you might call a rent-a-womb arrangement.”

When asked, Morse told the Register that the promotion of surrogacy by celebrity couples does influence the people following them. 

“Celebrities have more authority than Jesus himself for most people in our culture,” Morse said.

As for what the use of surrogacy for schedule convenience reveals about how society considers women, birth and children, Morse said, “Nothing good, that is for sure.” 

“That is why I am very glad to see a self-described feminist speak out about this,” she continued. “She sees that surrogacy represents the worst of capitalism and a very real form of class warfare.” 


Gloria Steinem’s Opposition

Nasreen’s reaction to Chopra and Jonas’ announcement is reminiscent of feminist journalist and activist Gloria Steinem’s response to New York’s attempts to pass legislation that would legalize reproductive commercial surrogacy in 2019. 

She wrote a letter calling for aid in resisting New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s attempts to push the bill forward and highlighted the risks the bill failed to address and how commercial surrogacy undermines women’s rights. 

Her concern was not with “the use of altruistic surrogacy to create a loving family, which is legal in New York now,” but the legalization of “commercial and profit-driven reproductive surrogacy industry.”

Steinem identified the same socio-economic issue that Nasreen and Morse mentioned. 

“This harms and endangers women in the process, especially those who feel they have few or no economic alternatives,” she said in the letter. “Under this bill, women in economic need become commercialized vessels for rent, and the fetuses they carry become the property of others.”

The bill, she claimed, ignored the socio-economic and racial inequalities of the reproductive surrogacy industry. 

“It put disenfranchised women at the financial and emotional mercy of wealthier and more privileged individuals,” Steinem said. 

Steinem also highlighted that since the bill permitted any woman to come to New York in order to carry a commercialized pregnancy, it increased the risk of human trafficking for the intention of reproductive exploitation of both the woman and the child. 

Jennifer Lahl, founder and president of the Center for Bioethics and Culture Network, worked with Steinem in opposing the legalization of commercial surrogacy.

“Feminists overwhelmingly see this as an exploitation of the rich over the poor,” Lahl told the Register. “Why is it that women have to use their bodies or sell their eggs in order to have economic resources to provide for their families or for themselves?”

When she heard the news of Chopra and Jonas’ surrogacy, she told the Register she thought to herself, “Here we go again” with another wealthy celebrity couple using surrogacy and a lack of response concerning the risk connected to surrogacy. 

“You never see a poor woman being celebrated that somebody who was wealthy carried a baby for the impoverished woman,” Lahl said. “It’s always the other way around.”

According to Lahl, a former pediatric critical care nurse, surrogate pregnancies include risk factors natural pregnancies don’t, and those risks don’t change depending on the intention motivating the surrogate pregnancy.

“Money corrupts informed consent. We don’t pay organ donors and there’s a real reason why we don’t pay them,” Lahl said. “We don’t want their need for money to manipulate or sway their decision-making. We want the decision-making to be free and unencumbered.”