Catholics and secular feminists fight against commercial surrogacy

In an unusual alignment of views, both Catholics and secular feminists in New York state are opposing a bill that would legalise commercial surrogacy.

Governor Andrew Cuomo’s bill has already passed the state Senate.

However the bill is stalled in the state Assembly (which is the other ‘half’ of the state Legislature). This is because of strong opposition, particularly from female legislators.

If passed, the law would allow state residents to pay a woman to carry to term a child conceived through in-vitro fertilisation. A surrogate mother would not be allowed to use her own eggs – which would make her biologically related to the child. This is known as traditional surrogacy.

While the bill has been presented as “an unequivocal progressive ideal, a remedy to a ban that burdens gay and infertile couples and stigmatises women who cannot have children on their own,” it has run up against strong opposition.

Assemblywoman Deborah Glick, who is openly gay, says commercial surrogacy “is called ‘pregnancy for a fee’.

“I find that commodification of women troubling.”

In a similar vein Dennis Poust, director of communications for the New York State Catholic Conference, says “Like those [secular feminist] groups, we stand up against the exploitation and dehumanisation of women.

“This bill treats women almost like livestock at the service of men.”

Poust says the bill was comparable to one that seeks to legalise prostitution in that both … lead to the exploitation of poor women, largely for the benefit of wealthy men.

“The one commodifies babies, the other sex, and always the victims are poor women,” he says.

“In commercial surrogacy, women’s human dignity is surrendered and they are reduced to objects desirable only for their body parts, whether that be the rental of their wombs or the mining of their eggs in risky, invasive medical procedures.

“The beneficiaries are nearly always wealthy and often male, while the exploited are always poor women.”

Feminist speaker, author, and activist Gloria Steinem wrote an open letter about the state legislating a “profit-driven reproductive surrogacy industry.

“Under this bill, women in economic need become commercialised vessels for rent, and the foetuses they carry become the property of others,” the letter says.

“The bill ignores the socio-economic and racial inequalities of the reproductive commercial surrogacy industry, and puts disenfranchised women at the financial and emotional mercy of wealthier and more privileged individuals.”

Steinem’s letter points out surrogate mothers are often college-age women who are victims “of an educational system that does not provide free or affordable college education.

“These women are often given fertility drugs without being warned of the possible side effects,” and the women face other medical and psychological injuries from the procedure, “including an inability to bear other children, and even death”.

She says another factor against the bill is its failure to provide measures to vet intended parents – unlike adoptive parents, who are thoroughly vetted.


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