Paris Hilton’s children aren’t designer handbags, and shouldn’t be treated as if they are

Just weeks after welcoming her son Phoenix via assisted reproductive technologies last month, Paris Hilton announced she had an abortion in her early twenties. The reality star and hotel heiress’s attitude toward her children is a prime example of the destruction of children’s rights (and by extension, human rights) in America.

Children are not accessories

Hilton revealed her past abortion in a recent interview with Glamour, saying that at the time of the abortion, she didn’t feel ready to be a mother. “I was a kid and I was not ready for that,” she said. Yet, in a seemingly contradictory statement to PEOPLE following her son’s birth, Hilton said, “It’s always been my dream to be a mother…”

While reports are muddled, it appears that Hilton may have harvested and frozen some of her eggs prior to marriage, and that she and her then-fiancé (now husband) Carter Reum froze multiple embryos after seven rounds of IVF. (One round of IVF can cost up to $30,000.) They then implanted those newly-fertilized human beings into a hired surrogate. Given the cost of surrogacy plus IVF, it is possible that Hilton has spent at least $200,000 creating babies in a lab.

She boasted, “I have 20 boys!” Still, she told Glamour, “I just went through the process again a month ago, so I’m waiting for the results to see if there’s any girls.” But most of these children, still embryos, will likely be denied their basic human right to life. Any who were not immediately discarded during the IVF process are frozen, prevented from entering the next stage of their lives while two adults decide if they want them or not. And if they decide they don’t want them, the children will be killed unless their parents decide to “donate” them to an embryo adoption agency.

Approximately 1.7 million humans have died during the process of IVF, and another one million are currently frozen in the United States.

Hilton’s children are victims of a self and sex-obsessed society — one in which children are mere items on a menu to be ordered when the craving arises, or objects on a store shelf that can be purchased or returned based on feelings. Children are not accessories. They are not designer handbags or puppies you can carry around in them. They are human beings with rights. All children are gifts that adults are entrusted with, not items to be purchased and disposed of.

Children’s rights

Hilton’s example shines a light on the destruction of children’s basic human rights. From her abortion to IVF and surrogacy, Hilton has commodified her children at every turn, though perhaps unknowingly — after all, each of these “reproductive decisions” is common in society. Often, people simply see them as a means to an end.

Yet, each of these acts denied her children their inherent rights.

First, children have the right to life and the right not to be unjustly killed. Hilton may have felt unready to parent — calling herself a “kid” while in her 20s — but anyone feeling ready to engage in sex needs to accept the fact that sex is the natural procreative act. A lack of readiness for parenting does not give anyone a legitimate “right” to kill.

Second, children have the right to be treated as human beings, not as business transactions. “When you are commissioning and swiping your credit card for a product, even one that you want badly, you are participating in commodification, regardless of whether the intended parents are the biological parents of the surrogate-born children. In this case, the products are human beings,” explained Katie Breckenridge of the children’s rights advocacy organization Them Before Us.

study out of Harvard Medical School revealed that 62% of children conceived through donor technologies, including surrogacy, believe it to be unethical and immoral. One woman told Them Before Us:

Somehow, somewhere, my parents developed the idea that they deserved to have a baby, and it didn’t matter how much it cost, how many times it took, or how many died in the process. They deserved a child. And with an attitude like that, by the time I was born they thought they deserved to have the perfect child… as Dad defined a perfect child. And since they deserved a child, I was their property to be controlled, not a person or a gift to be treasured.

IVF and surrogacy allow couples to create the children they desire — and the wealthier the couple is, the more options they have in creating designer babies. Hilton is one of the wealthiest women in the world and has made it clear that she will pick and choose from her embryos, as one might select puppies. “And then you can pick if you want boys or girls — just because I really want to have twins that are a boy and a girl. The only way to 100% get that is by making it happen that way,” she said.

As the campaign Stop Surrogacy Now (SSN) said, surrogacy is “indistinguishable from the buying and selling of children.”

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Children are harmed by IVF

While the IVF process is often intended to weed out children deemed unacceptable — such as those with Down syndrome or cystic fibrosis — it actually increases the risks of serious complications for children created using the technology.

Children created via IVF have an increased risk of low birth weight, premature birth, hospital admission, perinatal mortality, cerebral palsy, and a “significantly” increased risk of birth defects, compared to children conceived naturally. They are also at risk for high blood pressure, ADHD, autism, and depression, and girls conceived through IVF sometimes show advanced bone age and hormonal imbalances during puberty.

In addition, some studies show an increased risk of childhood illnesses, including an elevated risk of cardiovascular problems, early-onset acute lymphoblastic leukemia, an increased risk of cancer in general, epigenetic disorders, cognitive impairment, and possible infertility of their own.

Children carried by a surrogate can suffer a “major physiologic stressor” when they are separated from her — their birth mother, with whom they have been bonding for months. Studies have shown this stressor can permanently alter the baby’s brain, leaving him susceptible to depression, abandonment issues, and emotional issues related to attachment, bonding, and self-esteem.

One man who was carried by a surrogate explained, “Something horrible happened to us at birth. We lost our mothers. They did not die, but they might as well have been dead because we lost them in the capacity of mother, and to a tiny baby, that feels like death… That makes us feel very rejected. That leaves a hole in our hearts whether we admit to it or it manifests some other way like in depression or a fear of getting close to someone else…

“Sometimes it doesn’t show up until we are in our teens or [are] young adults, and like me sometimes it shows up as a baby when I scream my head off for six weeks and they call it colic… Nothing can console us… I wanted my mother and she wasn’t there… You can’t just substitute mothers and expect us to be OK with it.”

Renting wombs and exploiting women

Surrogates are treated as property through the IVF process as well. Hilton said she chose surrogacy because she is “scared” of childbirth, saying, “… I want a family so bad, it’s just the physical part of doing it. I’m just so scared.”

In choosing surrogacy, Hilton expects other women — less advantaged women — to take on the usual physical parts of pregnancy like nausea, heartburn, weight gain, and swelling, as well as the risks of rare complications and those that come specifically with surrogacy. Some of the health risks to surrogate mothers include emotional issues, loss of fertility, and death.

After celebrity couple Nick Jonas and Priyanka Chopra announced they had a baby using a surrogate, author and activist Talisma Nasreen tweeted, “Surrogacy is possible because there are poor women. Rich people always want the existence of poverty in the society for their own interests. If you badly need to raise a child, adopt a homeless one.” She added, “I won’t accept surrogacy until rich women become surrogate mom [sic].”

Jennifer Lahl, president of the Center for Bioethics and Culture Network explained, “Surrogacy is fraught with medical, ethical and legal problems… issues of class… and of course, the using of women as breeders and ignoring the important maternal-child bond, which turns women into commodities and babies as products.”

Abortion and assisted reproductive technology are two sides of the same coin, each working to ignore the rights of children so adults can fulfill their desires.

2/27/23: This article was updated to include information about Hilton undergoing another round of IVF to try to create female embryos.

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