Louisiana State Senator Gary Smith took his cues from Hollywood in promoting his new bill legalizing commercial contract pregnancies (gestational surrogacy) in his state. Jennifer parses Senator Smith’s assertion that surrogacy is analogous to “baking bread” in an oven and reveals the underlying commodification of both women and children that is at the heart of the surrogacy trend.
When Louisiana State Senator Gary Smith (D) faced questions at a recent hearing promoting his new bill that would legalize commercial contract pregnancies in Louisiana, he said that his IVF doctor explained that surrogacy was like “baking a bread” and that the oven is the environment in which it grows.
Just like the TV sitcom, The New Normal, which likens the surrogate to an ‘easy bake oven’ and the children she births to ‘cupcakes’, lawmakers are now pushing this radical agenda that treats women and children as commodities and makes the entire process sound as easy as baking a loaf of fresh bread in an oven. How demeaning this is to women and the children they birth. As a pediatric nurse and a long-time advocate of maternal-child health, I’m dismayed by how cavalier conception via third parties has become.
Senator Smith, as is often the case with new legislation, has a personal story driving his motivation to author and push for this bill to become law. He and his wife were unable to conceive and chose to use commercial contract pregnancies twice in order to have their two children.
They went to California, to hire a “gestational surrogate” to carry and birth their children. Since current law in Louisiana prohibits surrogacy contracts, they had to leave the state in order to build their family. This bill, which has passed with a majority of votes, seeks to change that law. The bill is now before Governor Bobby Jindal to sign into law or to veto. I have written to the Governor asking him to veto this bill.
Once you get past all of the emotions of people who desperately want babies (I understand that Senator Smith had photographs of his children in the hearing to draw sympathy from his colleagues), and start looking at how exploitive these arrangements are, it is easy to understand why many countries outside of the U.S. prohibit this practice (e.g., Canada, France, Italy, parts of Australia).
In fact, Canada’s Assisted Human Reproduction Act not only prohibits the purchase of eggs and sperm, and the services of a surrogate mother, it makes it a criminal offense to do so, punishable by up to $500,000 or ten years in prison. The basis of this law is the concern over the commodification of women and children and the commercialization of reproduction, which treats human reproduction as a product on the open market.
I am deeply concerned with how little focus is placed on the children created via assisted reproductive technologies and contract pregnancies, and on the women needed to supply eggs and wombs. I was a pediatric nurse for over two decades. In that field, a priority is given to the maternal-child bond. The most natural environment for the child, his or her mother’s womb, is of utmost importance to the physical and emotional development and well-being of a child. With each year, we learn more about the womb and about the life-long connection between the birth mother and child.
In her book The Primal Wound, psychologist Nancy Verrier describes how mothers are biologically, hormonally and emotionally programmed to bond with their babies at birth and in utero. It has been proven over and over again that the baby knows the mother at birth, and that both mother and baby experience grief at any separation at the time of birth; this primal wound is forever present.
The whole new field of epigenetics demonstrates that this nine-month time in the womb plays an important part in the child’s later health, sense of identity, and connection. Annie Murphy Paul’s new book, Origins: How the Nine Months before Birth Shape the Rest of our Lives, addresses maternal programming and the lasting impact the intrauterine environment has on the child.
This flies in the face of Hollywood’s attempt to gloss over complex realities with simplistic explanations that refer to a woman’s womb as an ‘easy-bake oven’ and children of surrogates as ‘cupcakes.’ I strongly disagree with those who suggest that the woman’s womb is just an oven. There are many things happening in utero that cannot be casually and disrespectfully dismissed.
Surrogacy intentionally sets up a negative environment. Instead of encouraging women to bond with their child in utero for the benefit of both mother and child, surrogacy demands that she not bond with this child. I have interviewed many women who were surrogates who very much regret their decision. Surrogacy is harmful to both the woman who carries the child and to the child she carries.
The health risks to the woman, who must take powerful synthetic hormones to prepare her body to accept an embryo, are real and serious. Women who decide to become surrogates are often motivated by the financial gains they are offered. Most contracts requires that the surrogate mother has already had children so that she can demonstrate her ability to carry a child to term. But no one has done any sociological studies on those existing children who observe their mothers keeping some babies and giving others away.
Living expenses can be an enticement for a woman of low-income with children in the home. Make no mistake: it won’t be wealthy women lining up to make themselves available to gestate babies. But it will be wealthy individuals or couples seeking to buy such services. Surrogacy takes something as natural as a pregnant woman nurturing her unborn child and turns it into an unnatural, contractual, commercialized endeavor. It opens the door for all sorts of exploitation.
In my letter to Governor Jindal, I acknowledged that his family came from India, which now has more surrogate pregnancies than anywhere else. The United States is second to India in number of surrogate pregnancies, and is often referred to as the Wild, Wild West of reproductive technologies. Only now, after many abuses—and a surrogate woman’s death—has India begun tightening up their laws. Please Governor Jindal, veto this bill and keep commercial surrogacy illegal. Louisiana should not become the new India.
Additional Information on Surrogacy
Surrogacy: A 21st Century Human Rights Challenge, CBC
Surrogacy Exposed, Kathleen Parker, Washington Post
Making a Child, Minus the Couple, New York Times
NJ Gov. Christie Vetoes Surrogacy Bill, The Star-Ledger
A Global Look at Today’s New Intentional Families, Commission on Parenthood’s Future
Surrogacy Laws by Country, Wikipedia
This article originally appeared at To The Source. Used by permission
- Jennifer Lahl, MA, BSN, RN, is founder and president of The Center for Bioethics and Culture Network. Lahl couples her 25 years of experience as a pediatric critical care nurse, a hospital administrator, and a senior-level nursing manager with a deep passion to speak for those who have no voice. Lahl’s writings have appeared in various publications including Cambridge University Press, the San Francisco Chronicle, the Dallas Morning News, and the American Journal of Bioethics. As a field expert, she is routinely interviewed on radio and television including ABC, CBS, PBS, and NPR. She is also called upon to speak alongside lawmakers and members of the scientific community, even being invited to speak to members of the European Parliament in Brussels to address issues of egg trafficking; she has three times addressed the United Nations during the Commission on the Status of Women on egg and womb trafficking.
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