Perhaps you have seen one of the surrogacy puff-pieces already: a woman agrees to “give the gift of life to others” who are unable (or unwilling) to bear their own child, by carrying a child formed from a (sometimes very expensive) “donated” egg that has been fertilised in vitro by the sperm of one of the intended parents. This is gestational surrogacy – the most common form of the practice today. The surface picture presented is normally entirely positive and uncritical and it is either a contribution to mindless celebrity news, or else, in the case of gay parents, the trumpeting of another victory for “LGBT+ rights”. A glossy “happy families” portrait.
Or perhaps you have read one of the more recent LGBT+ media accounts about gay men having children via surrogacy, where the word “surrogacy” is banished from the page, together with any reference to the involvement of a woman in the process somewhere. The Ministry of Alphabetical Truth seems to like creating the illusion of men not needing women in order to produce children. Motherhood is erased, and perhaps we are to believe that it is replaced by obliging rainbow storks. Not a woman in sight.
What about these “peripheral” women working behind the scenes? In gestational surrogacy, the baby will be biologically unrelated to his or her birth mother (surrogate mother). Carrying a foetus with alien genetic material can cause serious complications and difficulties. All surrogacy pregnancies are high-risk pregnancies, both to the birth mother and to the baby. In all pregnancies there is a risk that the mother could die. When surrogacy is involved, that risk is increased.
On 15 January 2020, Michelle Reaves of San Diego, California, tragically died from an amniotic embolism whilst carrying a baby as a surrogate. Studies in the medical literature indicate higher rates of pre-term birth and low birth weight babies in gestational surrogacy pregnancies, as well as higher rates of pre-eclampsia (maternal hypertension), placenta previa and maternal gestational diabetes. Surrogacy pregnancies also involve a higher rate of C-section deliveries, which constitute a greater risk to both mother and baby. This is all quite apart from the emerging evidence of a link between fertility drugs and cancer. Women are at higher risk of amniotic embolism, a condition with a frighteningly high mortality rate for both mother and child, if they experience the placental problems described above, or if they have a C-section: all risks associated with surrogacy pregnancies. The baby was, fortunately, saved; but Michelle Reaves lost her life, two young children lost their mother, and a husband lost his wife. Women risk their lives when they sign surrogacy contracts.
In the UK, surrogacy for commercial payment is supposed to be illegal, and those who wish to pursue blatant commercial surrogacy, and are wealthy enough to do so, can go abroad to where it is legal – such as to California, where commercial surrogacy frequently involves six-figure sums. Surrogacy tourism. The LGBT+ lobby thinks all this is great.
Is commercial surrogacy – buying babies – so different from paying someone for their kidney, though? The sale of human organs by living donors is illegal worldwide, except for in Iran: the same country that subsidises gender-reassignment as a conversion “therapy” for LGB people and that hangs people from cranes for homosexuality. There are solid grounds for prohibiting the sale of living organs. It is an unacceptable form of instrumentalisation that creates a harvesting class among those on lower incomes, who will be sacrificing their physical integrity and jeopardising their health and life under financial duress. It will be the wealthy buying liver lobes and kidneys, and the poor selling them. Not the other way round.
Compare this to commercial surrogacy. Surrogacy carries serious risks to the women. It is those on lower incomes, and not the wealthy, who are allowing the rich to rent their wombs. Babies born of surrogacy are also at higher risk of poor health outcomes. Most importantly, unlike a kidney, or a liver section, babies are human beings with rights and needs. Is it really likely that a baby will be emotionally unaffected by being immediately and permanently removed from her mother at birth and handed over to others? Is that what normally happens to mammals when we are born? Has nature prepared us to expect the warmth, love and care of our mothers to be immediately withdrawn when we are at our most vulnerable and have just emerged into the world? We don’t even treat dogs like that: the Kennel Club insists that puppies should not be removed from their mothers for at least six weeks following birth. If the global consensus is to ban living organ sales, then why don’t we also ban commercial surrogacy, which is probably even more harmful?
Commercial surrogacy is being gradually rainbow-washed, and Big Fertility is galloping into western statute books on the coat-tails of an aggressive and misogynistic LGBT+ lobby that no-one is allowed to offend, upset or even question.
Big Fertility, a multi-billion-dollar global industry, has been given a shot in the arm by the rainbow-washing of the LGBT+ lobby: a lobby that promotes “fertility equality” for gay men, (or perhaps the usual description these days is “LGBT+ men”, given the colonisation of the LGB identity by extreme gender ideology activists). However, so-called “fertility equality” comes at the cost of the rights and equality of women and children. Not only does surrogacy instrumentalise women and babies in a dehumanising way: it is also a physically dangerous process that can lead to serious illness, psychological trauma and death.
Although commercial surrogacy is theoretically illegal in the UK, the legislation that prohibits it – the Surrogacy Arrangements Act 1985 – appears to be a paper tiger. So far, I have been unable to identify a single prosecution – successful or unsuccessful – under the Act. Furthermore, on 1 April 2020, the outgoing President of the UK Supreme Court, Lady Hale (the Spider Lady no less, of Brexit prorogation fame) handed down a Judgment awarding an individual over half a million pounds against the NHS to pursue commercial surrogacy arrangements in California that would result in the four babies she said that she wanted to have. This was a clear case of judicial overreach, and Lord Reed, now the new Supreme Court President, and two other judges, dissented, describing the decision as “contrary to public policy”, given that Lady Hale was awarding over half a million pounds of taxpayers’ money specifically for an individual to pursue actions abroad that are illegal in the UK. In 1985, UK lawmakers decided that commercial surrogacy was unethical and banned it. There is surely something perverse and obscene about a court awarding public money to an individual specifically to pursue something abroad that is banned as unethical in the UK. (This generous surrogacy award was in addition to another, separate award of over half a million pounds for clinical negligence.)
Included in the justification for her Judgment, Lady Hale referred to the fact that commercial surrogacy is a route by which gay men can have children: again, we see here the influence of the “fertility equality” principle that has no ethical foundation, and evidence of LGBT+ institutional policy capture. Commercial surrogacy is being gradually rainbow-washed, and Big Fertility is galloping into western statute books on the coat-tails of an aggressive and misogynistic LGBT+ lobby that no-one is allowed to offend, upset or even question.
Yet there exists no universal human right to be a parent, any more than there is a universal human right to buy a human organ from a living donor. Can you imagine the outrage if Lady Hale had awarded a six-figure sum so that an individual could travel to Iran to buy a kidney from a lower-income donor who needs to pay off his debts? So why should such an award for commercial surrogacy be made that could endanger the life, health and well-being of lower-income women abroad? People will die as a result of not being able to buy a kidney; but they will not die as a result of not being able to buy a baby. Yet it is the latter demand that gets appeased. The surrogacy industry is no more capable of being regulated than the living organ sales industry: profoundly unethical and dehumanising practices must be stopped, not regulated.
Both egg “donors” and birth mothers are also put at risk by the hormone injections they receive as a component of the processes to which they commit. Women are expected to sign burdensome surrogacy contracts that often include micro-control and undermine their reproductive rights by giving commissioning parents the ultimate say over whether or not a foetus should be aborted. A woman may well discover that she feels unable to go through with an abortion demanded by the commissioning parents: for example, when a minor physical imperfection is detected in the foetus, and the commissioning parents expect some kind of flawless designer baby for their huge financial outlay.
Yet there is a form of “commercial surrogacy lite” going on under the radar in the UK, despite the prohibition. It gets called “altruistic surrogacy”, and it is ostensibly permitted so long as the birth mother only receives “reasonable expenses” rather than a commercial payment. However, “reasonable expenses” are not defined in law, and they normally seem to range between £12,000 and £20,000.
Any refusal by the birth mother to comply with an abortion request will lead to a very serious predicament. After all, the foetus is biologically related to one of the commissioning parents, and not to her. If she refuses to have the abortion, the surrogacy contract will be void, she will not be paid, and she will give birth to a child unrelated to her, possibly raising the child as her own if she feels unable to give her up for adoption. A woman in financial need may end up with another mouth to feed and hospital bills to pay from her own resources if she does not comply: and if she does comply, she may have a traumatic values-incongruent decision on her conscience for the rest of her life. Surrogacy is a moral minefield.
There is a trail of misery and devastated lives behind the “happy families” narrative, behind the glib mantra of “giving the gift of life to others”: evidence of human suffering that will take some time to penetrate the smokescreen thrown up by Big Fertility, the LGBT+ lobby, and the woefully conformist, craven and uncritical media.
Yet there is a form of “commercial surrogacy lite” going on under the radar in the UK, despite the prohibition. It gets called “altruistic surrogacy”, and it is ostensibly permitted so long as the birth mother only receives “reasonable expenses” rather than a commercial payment. However, “reasonable expenses” are not defined in law, and they normally seem to range between £12,000 and £20,000. At least, they are the visible sums, and we can see from Lady Hale’s Judgment above that sections of the judiciary are sympathetic to commercial surrogacy, even though it is meant to be illegal here. A sum of £12,000 to £20,000 looks to me rather like a wage, albeit a low one. When you add to this the fact that the birth mother will have an additional right to maternity pay and maternity leave (even though there will be no baby to look after), we end up with a rather attractive package for something that legally is not supposed to attract more than “reasonable expenses”. The High Court recently estimated the cost of an altruistic surrogacy in the UK to be £37,000. (In fact, £74,000 had been offered to Lady Hale’s claimant, to pursue two “altruistic” surrogacies in the UK, but the claimant had turned it down.) “Altruism” can clearly be an expensive business for those on the receiving end.
The six-figure sums required for commercial surrogacy tourism to the USA are clearly beyond the reach of all but the significantly wealthy. But how many working-class gay men in the UK can even afford to pay £37,000 for a so-called “altruistic” surrogacy arrangement? Many people on ordinary salaries – including many gay men – struggle to make ends meet from one month to the next, and unless a sum like that arrived as an unexpected legacy or windfall, they would not be able to afford to pay such “expenses”. So, who is it who benefits when surrogacy – whether “altruistic” or commercial – is canonised as an “LGBT+ right”? It is primarily the wealthy. It is surely a very strange “LGBT+ right” or “gay right” that normally can’t be enjoyed unless you are wealthy. “Fertility equality”, but only for those who can afford it. And that’s quite apart from the fact that surrogacy is as exploitative and as unethical as buying living people’s organs and should not be available to anyone.
Surrendering a baby has the potential to be a far more harrowing experience than surrendering a kidney. Understandably, birth mothers can experience a great deal of grief when they hand over the baby. Some still pine after the child, wondering how she is getting on, years after she has been born and whisked away. This becomes an even more harrowing experience in those cases where the birth mother gradually discovers during the pregnancy that the commissioning parents are cold-hearted and untrustworthy people, (sometimes matched by equally cold-hearted and untrustworthy commercial surrogacy agencies). She may bitterly regret ever having entered into a contract with them, when it is too late to do anything about it. She may fear for the child’s future in the hands of the commissioning parents who have shown themselves in their true colours.
As also applies to gender extremism, it is very much the case that women and children are casually thrown under the bus by the LGBT+ lobby in the service of “fertility equality” ideology that is inimical to fundamental human rights. The frequent reaction of LGBT+ lobby actors to those who speak out against surrogacy is also very similar to the reaction meted out to those who oppose extreme gender ideology. It is mud-slinging; misleading and sly half-truths; and hatred.
This physical, legal, ethical and psychological minefield, which overwhelmingly benefits the wealthy at the expense of the vulnerable, justifies a worldwide ban on surrogacy. How can this be permitted and even encouraged, when the buying of living organs is quite correctly condemned? Can we not still hear in the noisy clamouring of pro-surrogacy activists a misogynistic whisper that says: “It’s only women”? And in the case of surrogacy tourism, the misogynistic and xenophobic whisper, “It’s only foreign women”?
Apart from the potentially traumatic separation of a baby from her mother at birth, there is also the risk of “genealogical bewilderment”, where the child may feel a sense of abandonment and of not being properly anchored in the world as a result of not knowing the identity of one or both of her genetic parents, or of her birth mother. There is the challenge of coming to terms with having started life as a purchasable commodity, and of not knowing whether the mother who bore her is in need of help, or whether she had been compelled by financial circumstances or a coercive man to enter into the surrogacy arrangement that resulted in the child’s very existence. That can be a great deal for a child to process, and a great burden.
As also applies to gender extremism, it is very much the case that women and children are casually thrown under the bus by the LGBT+ lobby in the service of “fertility equality” ideology that is inimical to fundamental human rights. The frequent reaction of LGBT+ lobby actors to those who speak out against surrogacy is also very similar to the reaction meted out to those who oppose extreme gender ideology. It is mud-slinging; misleading and sly half-truths; and hatred. The lobby of activists that is the first to accuse others of “hate” at any opportunity, is itself a body thoroughly toxified by hatred and wilful ignorance. One of the accusations gurgled at me from the bubbling cess-pits of juvenile LGBT+ hit-pieces is that I “campaign against the right of gay men to have children via surrogacy”, whereas everything I write and say makes it absolutely clear that I oppose all forms of surrogacy for all people, gay or straight. Neither do they share the inconvenient detail that I am a longstanding gay rights activist; as such, it is natural for me to focus my voice against surrogacy in the gay community, where I am more likely to have an impact, given how surrogacy is a human rights violation that the LGBT+ lobby is actively promoting.
Surrogacy is a serious human rights violation, and no amount of rainbow-washing will ever alter that fact.
Although I oppose surrogacy, I still support non-surrogacy parenting by appropriate gay and lesbian people, just as I support non-surrogacy parenting by appropriate straight people. I applaud LGB people, and indeed all people, who, instead of pursuing surrogacy, put themselves through a thorough vetting procedure in order to adopt children from local authorities or to pursue a permanent care arrangement such as exists in some Australian states.
The LGBT+ lobby’s pro-surrogacy lobbying primarily benefits wealthy gay men, and the surrogacy market is likely to see an increasing demand from the surge in transgender-identified people who have been caused fertility problems from the use of puberty blockers and cross-sex hormones. Misogynistic pro-surrogacy campaigning is paralleled by the LGBT+ lobby’s attempt to remove women’s and girls’ sex-based rights and protections in the service of extreme gender ideology, opening up female domains to any biological man who claims (in good or bad faith) to identify as a woman. With the rights of women and children under such insidious and callous attack across the western world, we need to challenge the ideology of this new low-grade totalitarianism. The LGBT+ lobby has hijacked the historic LGB rights movement and is now hawking the dehumanising values of Big Fertility in the name of “fertility equality”: a concept that can only be realised by eviscerating the rights of women and children. Surrogacy is a serious human rights violation, and no amount of rainbow-washing will ever alter that fact.
Please consider joining the global campaign to end surrogacy by signing the petition at #StopSurrogacyNow and registering for the SSN newsletter. Let’s work for that day when women’s wombs are no longer for rent and babies are no longer for sale.
Gary Powell is a gay man and has been active in gay politics since 1980. He is the European Special Consultant to the Center for Bioethics and Culture.