Last week when I was in New York to host and moderate our Trading on the Female Body event—which was a success beyond our expectations (please be sure to watch or re-watch the video of the event on Facebook or YouTube!)—I also testified at the United Nations.
The UN event was entitled “Root Causes of Trafficking in Persons,” and I was there to bring attention to the serious human trafficking issues that arise in surrogacy, and to encourage those at the UN to fight against the practice of surrogacy rather than cave in to those who would have us simply regulate it.
I’ve included a copy of my remarks at the UN below so you can know the important message I delivered there.
It would be difficult to overstate how important moments like this are. To be heard by this important body on this topic of global importance is an honor, a privilege, and a great responsibility. I could not have done this without your generous support, over many years of work. Thank you!
The momentum of our Stop Surrogacy Now efforts is building. CBC Executive Director Matthew Eppinette and I are flying to Spain next month to host an event similar to the one we put on last week in New York. Our purpose there will be to help educate Spanish activists and legislators who are working to keep surrogacy illegal in their country. This is truly a global problem that requires a global solution. And that means work on a global scale.
While we were in New York, we also began filming on our next documentary, about a young woman named Kelly who served as a surrogate multiple times. She saw first-hand how the surrogacy industry is truly a fertility industrial complex, using people so long as it can profit off of them, and then casting them aside, often leaving them emotionally wounded, physically injured, and financially damaged.
Kelly’s story is so compelling that we need to build it into a feature-length film rather than a short film. She will be traveling with us to Spain, and we may travel to her home for additional interviews and filming.
This work, though, requires our full attention and a great commitment of resources. Please consider how much you can contribute to help us continue to build on this momentum. In addition, please help us spread the word of this important work to those in your network. This is an important message that needs to be heard in our culture. And we need many more to be informed, and, frankly, we need many more to help support our work to Stop Surrogacy Now.
PS – It is only because of your help that we have been able to do as much as we have. There is so much more to be done. Please help me build on this momentum with your most generous gift.
Remarks by Jennifer Lahl, RN, MA
Founder and President
The Center for Bioethics and Culture
As part of “Root Causes of Trafficking in Persons”
Side event to the 61st Commission on the Status of Women (#CSW61)
New York, USA
March 15, 2017
This week and next, women from all over the globe are gathered here at the United Nations for the 61st Commission on the Status of Women (CSW). CSW’s stated goal is to support gender equality and empowerment for all women of the world. This year’s theme at CSW is women’s economic empowerment in the changing world of work.
One very important part of that conversation, which I’m happy to address today, is this: renting your womb is not work. It is not economic empowerment. It is the exploitation of women and children.
If one looks at laws in many parts of Europe, or recent changes in laws in the Global South, we find that laws either prohibit surrogacy altogether (for example, in France, Germany, and Sweden) or have moved to greatly limit and restrict people coming in from other countries to exploit women and harm children (as in India and Thailand).
The European Union policy framework to fight violence against women, in fact,
20. Asks Member States to acknowledge the serious problem of surrogacy, which constitutes an exploitation of the female body and her reproductive organs;
21. Emphasizes that women and children are subject to the same forms of exploitation and both can be regarded as commodities on the international reproductive market, and that these new reproductive arrangements, such as surrogacy, augment the trafficking of women and children and illegal adoption across national borders;
Many suggest that women should be paid, and paid handsomely, to rent out their wombs because after all, this is just another form of work. Further, they suggest that it is empowering for women to have the choice to sell or rent their bodies. But in fact, this is nothing more than trading on and profiting from the female body. I urge you: dig deeper, look closer at both the known and unknown risks these women assume in order to help another.
We need to expose the myth that surrogacy is just another form of work. We need to provide a clearer picture of the reality that such women are not left economically empowered. We need to work together as feminists, activists, experts, and academics to stop this Global Trading on the Female Body.
An international problem demands an international solution.
This is the only way to put a stop to the reproductive tourism we see growing year after year into an industry of tens of billions of dollars.
Why do we to work together and to what end? To tell the full story. The true story. To present the stories and the facts that this growing industry doesn’t want the world to hear.
What are those facts? I’ll highlight three:
First, surrogacy often is coercive, offering money, often much needed money for low income and poor women in economically developing countries, but treating them as little more than caged Breeders. Or, as here in the U.S., requiring women to sign away their rights in contracts. How is it economically empowering for women to ask them to do something for money that may not be in their own best interest?
Second, surrogacy is risky to the health of women. A surrogate who is pregnant with donor eggs (which is always the case in gestational surrogacy) confers additional risks both to the pregnant woman and to the child. Surrogate mothers have died risking their health in this way when they will not benefit one bit. How can something so risky to a woman’s health be seen as empowering?
Third, surrogacy is risky to the mental and psychological health of women. Women naturally bond to the children they carry and often wonder and worry about the children born from their wombs. Often women feel guilty or stupid when things go wrong, telling themselves it is their fault. These are not the feelings of an empowered woman. Many times the industry reinforces this by telling women it is their fault because of something they did or didn’t do. Women are often left with unpaid medical bills and no legal representation for them when things go wrong, adding to their burden of distress.
These are the facts:
Surrogacy is often coercive.
Surrogacy is risky to maternal child health.
Surrogacy is risky to the mental and psychological health of women and children.
As we anticipate the work we have to do in New York these next two weeks, let us focus on work that truly empowers women economically. And let us eliminate work that exploits, marginalizes, and trades on their bodies for the economic gain of others.
- 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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