Moments after speaking before a sea of families in Rome about the dangers of commercial surrogacy, an Italian reporter asked why I was being so vocal in a country where it is already illegal.
Isn’t that like preaching to the choir, she wondered?
While the notion of speaking to hundreds of thousands of people who recently turned out to Family Day at the Circo Massimo, an historic Roman arena popular for public events, could be construed that way, the truth is, things are far more complicated than that.
Even though gestational surrogacy—where a woman is implanted with embryos from other couples in order to give birth to a child unrelated to her—is rightly banned all across Europe and parts of Asia, and even considered to be human trafficking in some other countries, this abuse against women and children will continue until we have a universal ban across borders.
As it stands, Europeans are navigating, if not circumventing, the loose laws of surrogacy here in the United States. Many come to states all across America such as California to hire women—paying surrogate mothers anywhere from $25,000 to $50,000, and thousands more to lawyers and placement agencies—to have their children.
It’s a sort of baby-making vacation, only the “tourists” aren’t giving birth.
Because of our porous borders and rules, the human breeding industry remains one of the globe’s most pressing human rights issues. And it will continue to be until U.S. lawmakers come to terms with the system they are encouraging, if for no other reason than turning a blind eye to it.
After my visit to Rome, I was welcomed at another conference in Paris, France. But this one, organized by the country’s equivalent of its radical left, sees surrogacy as an abuse of women. In fact, they don’t really distinguish it from prostitution, another exploitation of women.
I was struck by how two seemingly polar groups—conservatives in Italy and liberals in France—could agree on an issue that’s getting such little attention in the United States.
Even now, as the presidential campaign persists with 24-hour news coverage and daily polls analyzed ad infinitum, there has been absolutely no mention of commercial surrogacy on the campaign trail. Nothing from either party—not from liberal Democrats nor from conservative Republicans, or anyone in between. Not even an off-the-cuff remark.
That in itself is a travesty, a downright injustice in a country that prides itself on being just, humane, and principled.
The surrogacy industry often targets military wives, low-income women, and those in need of money. Any way you view the issue, the abuse of women and the lack of protections for children are of real concern.
Unfortunately, it shows no signs of slowing. At $3.5 billion plus, commercial surrogacy is growing at a rate of nearly 15 percent a year in the U.S., in part because other countries have shown leadership and banned the practice. This system is easy to get around by crossing state lines—and a reason why Europeans and other “tourists” come to our shores: to purchase a baby.
When did children become a U.S. export? How could this be?
There are no federal laws on commercial surrogacy in the U.S., and state laws are a confusing mix of inconsistent and contradictory rules that are loaded with loopholes. What’s also upsetting is that U.S. contract law is actually being used to terminate healthy babies. It sounds absurd, but it’s a reality as exemplified by recent cases involving two mothers in California.
Where do the candidates stand on this human rights issue?
We’ve heard a lot on building walls, immigration, and making our nation safe. But nothing about protecting women and children—or shutting down an inhumane pipeline that persists.
The fact that there is no national conversation is shameful in itself. These issues transcend gender, race, and class. They can’t be ignored. They mustn’t.
Others nations have shown true leadership on this issue. Canada, India, Cambodia, and many European countries have either banned or restricted the practice. A Mexican state legislature voted to close the door to foreign couples and gay men looking to have a child by surrogacy while simultaneously restricting options for Mexicans. The European Parliament recently condemned the practice of surrogacy, calling it an exploitation of vulnerable women.
Yet still nothing on the campaign trail? Candidates, let’s hear where you stand on this human rights issue.
- 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.