Throughout his pontificate, Pope Francis has waged a war on the “throwaway culture,” in which anything can be commodified and given a dollar value, and where life itself can be, in his words, “considered a consumer good to be used and then discarded.”
The commercial surrogacy industry is a product of the throwaway culture. In surrogacy arrangements, a baby can be bought and sold, a woman’s body can be used as a human incubator, and those with the most wealth—i.e., the surrogacy industry—are in charge of the decisions. A surrogacy arrangement can cost between 100,000-150,000 dollars, with only a small portion going to the surrogate mother. A good majority of the money goes to the surrogacy industry itself, a multi-billion-dollar, ever-expanding international business.
This international business—which includes fertility clinics, doctors, lawyers, and third party brokerage firms—lobbies to create laws in states like Minnesota that would enable the surrogacy market to continue to grow unchecked by giving legal recognition to surrogacy contracts.
Undermining human dignity
Often these contracts create an imbalanced preference favoring the industry’s financial interests over the surrogate mother’s well-being, not to mention the well-being of the unborn child. Recognizing this danger, some countries are starting to clamp down on the surrogacy industry.
For example, the European Parliament recently condemned surrogacy, concluding that the practice “undermines the human dignity of the woman since her body and its reproductive functions are used as a commodity.” And in the state of Tabasco in Mexico, surrogacy has been restricted in an attempt to reign in a rapidly expanding market.
Heedless of a global movement in which countries such as Canada, India, Cambodia, Mexico, and many European states have either banned or restricted the practice, our nation’s leaders have refused to take steps to protect citizens from the dangers of surrogacy. Without federal regulations banning or restricting the practice, states have cobbled together inconsistent laws—most that favor the industry and enable its growth.
In California, for instance, two separate cases recently emerged in which surrogate mothers were pressured to abort one of the three fetuses they were carrying. When both mothers refused, the would-be parents’ attorneys threatened to sue them for breach of contract, claiming they were liable for money damages unless they complied.
One of the mothers, Melissa Cook, is now challenging the constitutionality of California’s surrogacy contracts, saying, “I no longer view surrogacy arrangements in the same favorable light I once did… [I] think that the basic concept of surrogacy arrangements must be re-examined, scrutinized, and reconsidered.”
A commonsense solution
Similar stories continue to surface with increasing frequency, putting pressure on lawmakers to do something to protect women and unborn children from being put at risk and exploited at the expense of the financial interests of the more powerful bargaining party.
Last year, the Minnesota Catholic Conference assisted legislators in introducing a bill that would do exactly what Cook said was necessary: establish a study commission to “re-examine, scrutinize, and reconsider” surrogacy arrangements. The bill was drafted to be a bi-partisan, fact-finding mission where the practices of the industry could be brought to light—a commonsense approach necessary to protect children, women, and intended parents from the potential harms of surrogacy arrangements.
Despite the fact that this bill proposed nothing but the study of surrogacy, the industry strongly opposed it. If surrogacy arrangements are without any negative consequences, as proponents contest, their vehement opposition to examining the issue more closely leaves us to wonder what the industry has to hide.
This session, the surrogacy industry will undoubtedly try to block the creation of a commission again. The question will be, are we as Catholics willing to call our legislators, go to their offices, and attend hearings to stand up for the vulnerable, oppose a throwaway culture, and insist that—at a minimum—our legislators study this issue?