It’s a sadly common story: a couple pays for a surrogate to carry a child for them. Problems arise after the surrogate turns out to be carrying multiples, or the couple finds out the preborn child has a disability. The couple tries to force the surrogate to have an abortion, which she refuses to do, and legal battles ensue. It’s a horrific situation, but it’s not unusual by any means. A bill making its way through Virginia’s General Assembly could put a stop to these forced abortions — but it’s not all good news.
The Virginia Senate passed the bill, SB 290, on Tuesday with unanimous support. Often, it’s written into a surrogacy contract that a surrogate must abort in case of multiples or disabilities — but SB 290 would make those contracts “void and unenforceable.” This amendment was added by the Senate after the bill passed through the House, meaning SB 290 will now go back to the House for approval again. If it’s passed by the House of Delegates and signed by the governor, a surrogate could not be forced to undergo selective reduction if she’s carrying multiples, or forced to have an abortion due to the preborn child’s disability. One of the sponsors of the bill, Sen. Mark Peake, said the bill is both pro-choice and pro-woman. “This is not an antiabortion bill,” he said on the Senate floor. “The choice remains with the pregnant mother.”
John Whitbeck, the former Republican state party chairman, said that he had never seen these kinds of struggles between surrogates and prospective parents. He still told the Washington Post he supported the legislation, however, saying it “would add a dimension of clarity to what is certainly an ambiguity in the statutes.” While Whitbeck may never have seen the legal battles between surrogates and those who hire them, they certainly exist; many surrogates have been pressured to abort due to gender, carrying multiples, and disability.
The problem with SB 290 is that it still allows surrogates to choose abortion on their own. Peake originally tried to pass a similar amendment last year, which failed; Virginia’s pro-abortion lawmakers would only get on board once language was added ensuring that a surrogate could still have an abortion if she wanted to. Whitbeck pointed out that this in and of itself is problematic. “It would change the legal advice you could give [to parents],” he said. “‘Just so you know, even if you do this, even if you spend the money, even if you spend the emotional investment [in a surrogacy arrangement]… Virginia law still says this could all be taken away from you.’”
The abortion issue aside, surrogacy is fraught with ethical problems. It, by its very nature, turns women’s bodies into commodities to be bought and sold, wombs rented for their ability to bear children. And both the surrogates and the children they carry are frequently seen as property by the parents renting the wombs, able to be used and then discarded at will.
In addition to this, the surrogacy industry often preys upon low-income women who are attracted to the idea of being paid large sums of money for doing something that is portrayed as positive (i.e., carrying a baby for someone who can’t). Meanwhile, the industry is almost completely unregulated, which is what allows these ethical problems to continue to flourish.
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