Analysis

Renting wombs: New York will soon allow paid gestational surrogacy

surrogate, Virginia

Paid gestational surrogacy will officially become legal on February 15 in New York, after Governor Andrew Cuomo’s longtime advocacy for it. Not only will women’s wombs be available for purchase in New York, but the move means only two states in the nation — Louisiana and Michigan — have outlawed the exploitative practice.

On the surface, surrogacy seems like a positive idea, as it helps infertile couples have children. Yet it is a dehumanizing industry, turning both women and children into products to be bought, controlled, and sold, instead of treating them as independent human beings with their own inherent dignity and rights.

New York residents will be allowed to enter into paid surrogacy contracts after February 15th, and will also allow LGBT families to participate. “Today, we bring New York law in line with the needs of modern families, while simultaneously enacting the strongest protections in the nation for surrogates,” Assemblywoman Amy Paulin, a co-sponsor of the bill, told NBC News. “This law will allow families to avoid much of that pain by giving them the opportunity to have a family in New York and not travel around the country, incurring exorbitant costs simply because they want to be parents.”

The state will also allegedly offer heavy protections for women who become surrogates, including a minimum compensation of $35,000 and required health and life insurance for a year after the baby’s birth. But it is concerning that parents can also purchase insurance to “cover their losses” should the surrogate “fail to perform” as expected under the outlined contract. And yet, the surrogacy industry has complained about some of the “protections” for surrogates. Melissa Brisman, a lawyer who runs a surrogacy agency, told NBC News that no other states requires surrogates to be given care for a year after the birth.

READ: Not ‘mothers’ but ‘egg donors’: Why are surrogates treated as if they don’t exist?

More indicative of the inherent problems with the surrogacy industry, however, is how Brisman described surrogates. The new law, she said, “helps single women, single men, gay couples, unmarried couples. This law does have some limitations but it helps anybody who wants to use a gestational carrier.” This phrase dehumanizes and commoditizes the woman who is gestating a human child.

The surrogacy industry is fraught with ethical issues, particularly when it is commercialized. Women, particularly those with low-income status, are preyed upon by wealthy couples giving — on average — $50,000 for a woman to bear their child, with gay male couples who want children increasingly paying to rent women’s wombs as well. The Richmond Journal of Law and Technology (JOLT) points out that some parents are spending over $100,000. Military wives are some of the most popular choices to serve as surrogates; they tend to be under-employed, and with a deployed spouse, getting tens of thousands of dollars to make ends meet can be incredibly tempting. JOLT describes military wives as desirable for surrogacy agencies, because they’re seen as “women with limited job opportunities, limited income, and minimal medical expenses.” These are women literally seen as objects to be purchased and used for someone else’s desires.

Considering the surrogate is more likely to be low-income, while the purchasing couple tends to be wealthy, this leads to a disturbing power imbalance. So when the would-be parents decide something is “wrong” with the pregnancy and want an abortion, it can be exceedingly difficult for the surrogate to fight back, especially if the parents wrote abortion into the surrogacy contract. Surrogates have been pressured to abort when the babies they carry are discovered to be the wrong sex, or have a disability, or if the surrogate is carrying multiples.

Surrogates are essentially treated as property. Once a surrogate becomes pregnant, parents often feel as if they have control over not only the baby, but the surrogate as well. If she refuses to have an abortion, she can be sued — after all, her body has now been “purchased” by the would-be parents. Other surrogates have found themselves abandoned by the would-be parents, who went through the process of getting the surrogate pregnant, and then changed their minds.

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