Pregnancy is a beautiful process that leads to new life; however, not all pregnancies are so delightful. Surrogacy, now a multibillion dollar industry in the U.S. , is a transaction in which a woman carries a baby for another woman who cannot carry babies themselves. Clients for such a service include same-sex couples, women without wombs, and women at risk for pregnancy-related complications. On the surface, surrogacy is not ethically concerning. However, when digging deeper, exploitation of the poorly regulated service is evident as surrogate mothers rent their wombs without being informed of the hazards.
Despite the practice rising in popularity, the U.S. still lacks national regulation around surrogacy. A 2016 CDC report estimates that 18,400 surrogacy babies were born between 1999 to 2016, though the actual number is likely to be much higher given the rise in popularity and lack regulation around surrogacy . Most surrogate mothers contract with agencies, which may greatly profit from drawing more women in by dismissing the psychological and physical dangers of surrogacy.
On average, surrogate mothers in the U.S. are paid $20,000 to $25,000 per pregnancy. This boils down to around $3 per hour the surrogate mother is pregnant or in labor, which is far less than the national minimum wage of $7.25 [1, 3]. Still, the seemingly high payment deceives low-income women, particularly military wives as surrogacy is an attractive and viable option to double a traditionally low income. Furthermore, they are considered to be “easy recruits” to surrogate agencies, since they have a preexisting service mentality stemming from sacrifice and loyalty to the nation. Military wives are further assumed to be celibate while their husbands are stationed overseas and have few legal protections, increasing their odds of being exploited for surrogacy. As a result, many surrogacy clinics are located near large military bases, such as Texas, California, and Florida .
Despite the financial incentives associated with surrogacy, one should not overlook the risks. Due to the high cost of surrogacy, multiple embryos are implanted at once with the hope of successful implantation, which increases the risk of C-section and perinatal complications such as gestational diabetes, fetal growth restriction, and pre-eclampsia, as well as premature birth . Director of the documentary Breeders: A Subclass of Women, Jennifer Lahl, recalls that one surrogate mother almost died due to high-risk pregnancy complications . Lahl further remembers surrogates who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder after their surrogacy .
Additionally, surrogate mothers can rarely choose the environment they think will best fit the child. Former surrogate mother Melissa Cook was carrying triplets for a father who wanted to abort at least one child because he could not afford them all . After her children were born, the custody was given to the father, who left the children unattended for extended periods of time. She fought for custody but was denied at lower courts due to the contracts signed; however, Cook stated, “there are rulings that have to be made [when dealing with a child’s life" . Along with Cook, two other surrogate mothers have filed and called on the Supreme Court to enforce stronger regulation for the rights of surrogate mothers and children. They state that surrogacy contracts are abusive by “creating a class of women as breeders” and are “commodifying children” .
Surrogates are not only denied the right to express their beliefs and endure the physical implications of pregnancy but are also emotionally burdened. A personal testimony of a young surrogate mother demonstrates the hardship of giving up a child: “While grappling with the emotional rollercoaster of saying goodbye to my newborn baby, I realized...it was impossible for me to know exactly what I would be going through during pregnancy and what I was giving up post-birth” . Pregnancy is an emotional investment for any mother, including surrogates. A 2014 case study of eight surrogate mothers revealed that these women experienced significant emotional attachment to the children they knew they would be giving up after the delivery .
Along with all the aforementioned obstacles, surrogate mothers also face financial struggles. Agencies leave surrogates with a “hefty financial burden” by not defending them when a conflict of unpaid medical payments arises . For instance, a five-time surrogate mother from South Dakota shares that the expecting parents took the child and left her with thousands of dollars in unpaid medical bills .
Like their carriers, surrogate children are also at emotional risks. A report published in the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry found that children raised by non-birth-giving mothers face increased psychological adjustment issues such as depression . Moreover, children born through surrogacy are more likely to be of low birth weights or be stillborn . These children also suffer serious genealogical bewilderment as young adults, an identity problem experienced by children who are fostered, adopted, or conceived from surrogacy. To exacerbate the situation, children of surrogate mothers have no access to information about their potential biological siblings, which further induces stress .
The serious ramifications of surrogacy deserve to be voiced in order to minimize the exploitation of women who might consent to the surrogacy transaction without acknowledging the potential risks and hidden injustices. While surrogacy is often brushed over as an altruistic act for a couple who cannot carry a child on their own, its reality is often characterized by health risks to the surrogate mother and child. Attention to this issue is needed, and national policy surrounding surrogacy should be implemented to protect women who might otherwise be conned into “renting” their wombs.
1) Surrogacy. (n.d). Pleasant Hill, CA: The Center for Bioethics and Culture Network. Retrieved from http://www.cbcnetwork.org/issues/making-life/surrogacy/
2) Sloan, K. (2017, April 24). Trading on the Female Body: Surrogacy, Exploitation, and Collusion by the US Government. Princeton, NJ: Public Discourse. Retrieved from https://www.thepublicdiscourse.com/2017/04/19109/
3) Minimum Wage. (n.d). Washington DC: US Department of Labor. Retrieved from https://www.dol.gov/general/topic/wages/minimumwage
4) What’s Wrong With Surrogacy. (n.d). Pleasant Hill, CA: The Center for Bioethics and Culture Network. Retrieved from http://www.cbcnetwork.org/pdfs/What-is-Wrong-with-Surrogacy-Center-forBioethics-and-Culture.pdf
5) Somarriba, M. R. (2017, November 11). The Overlooked Risks of Surrogacy for Women. Charlottesville, VA: Institute for Family Studies. Retrieved from https://ifstudies.org/blog/the-overlooked-risks-of-surrogacyfor women
6) Cha, A.E. (2018 May, 24). Surrogate mothers ask the Supreme Court to stop ‘exploitation’ of women and babies. Washington DC: The Washington Post. Retrieved from https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/toyour-health/wp/2018/05/16/surro gate-mothers-ask-supreme-courtto-stop-exploitation-of-women-and-babies/
7) Curtis, L. (2018, August 9). I Chose To Be A Surrogate Mother I Didn't Know It Would Break My Heart. New York, NY: Huffpost. Retrieved from https://www.huffpost.co m/entry/being-a-surrogate-mother-brokemy-heart_n_5b56346ae4b0de86f48fb2df
8) Caron, C. (2019 June, 26). Surrogacy is Complicated. Just ask New York. New York, NY: The New York Times. Retrieved from https://parenting.nytimes.com/becoming- a-parent/surrogacy-lawsnew-york