We are a lesbian and a gay man who have been involved for many years in the struggle for gay and lesbian equality and for broader human rights issues. We both unequivocally oppose all forms of surrogacy as unethical; as legally, medically and psychologically dangerous; and as an abusive commodification of women and of babies that also carries significant and barely-reported health risks for the women and babies involved.
Furthermore, the practice of surrogacy finds widespread global expression in wealthy couples paying economically deprived women to bear children on their behalf, facilitated by high-earning surrogacy agencies and their legal advisers. Little thought seems to be given to the racism and misogyny involved in the international surrogacy tourism industry, where customers and agencies target vulnerable and economically deprived women abroad in order to meet their requirements. One of the authors of this letter travelled to India to investigate their surrogacy clinics. We view with alarm the increasing clamour to regard surrogacy arrangements as a “gay right” and to automatically stigmatise and shout down anyone who opposes surrogacy as a “homophobe”.
The silencing of debate on this topic, and this false association with the “rights” of gay men to access the wombs of poor and desperate women, is demeaning to the genuine struggles of the lesbian and gay community. Same-sex relationships and encounters are still illegal in a number of countries, and punishable by death in some. Our community should never become blindly associated with such an abusive and narcissistic practice as surrogacy. We therefore appeal to the gay and lesbian community to take a step back from a position of indifference or acceptance with regard to this issue, and to refuse to be taken in by the glamorisation of surrogacy, promoted by a superficial media that focuses on wealthy celebrities.
The right of gay couples to have children through surrogacy is increasingly seen as an advance for equality, and a triumph of tolerance over prejudice.* When the Italian designers Domenico Dolce and Stephano Gabbana described the IVF children of Sir Elton John as “synthetic”, there were calls for a boycott of Dolce and Gabbana’s products. Elton John responded by saying, “Shame on you for wagging your judgemental little fingers at IVF – a miracle that has allowed legions of loving people, both straight and gay, to fulfil their dream of having children.”
More recently, when Dustin Lance Black revealed that he and his husband, Tom Daley, were expecting a baby via surrogacy, some critics claimed that it was “wrong” that two men should raise a child. The authors of this letter have no objections to same-sex parenting per se. However, when we raised our general objections to surrogacy in response to the announcement by Black and Daley, we were both accused of bigotry.
But the reality of surrogacy is very different to the sanitised version peddled by the businesses that broker such “services”. The majority of women whose wombs are rented are a far cry from the poster girls – blonde, smiling, and offering to carry a baby for altruistic reasons, rather than because she desperately needs the money.
We are calling upon our community to refuse to be used as a shield for exploitative people, both gay and heterosexual, to normalise the practice of womb trafficking.
The rights-based discourse has removed any sense of responsibility. But in reality, it is not a right for anyone to use the womb of a woman in order to have your own child.
Some heterosexuals who wish to justify renting wombs and egg buying are using our community as a shield, and as justification for their exploitative choices. As one straight couple said to one of us, “If gay men are doing this in the name of equality, then surely there is nothing wrong with it?”
In other words, our community is leading the way now in normalising, sanitising, and destigmatising this practice. Those who are proposing that surrogacy should be legalised, using the arguments of “gay rights” and equality, are subverting the core aims of the gay liberation movement, which is about dignity and respect for all, and not the abuse of other people’s rights.
We should all be aware that supporting surrogacy is inconsistent with feminist principles. In renting the womb of a woman, her reproductive rights are removed. She will normally be dictated to throughout her pregnancy by both the commissioning parents and any third-party broker involved. The usual scenario with surrogacy arrangements is that the surrogate is told what to eat and drink, when she is allowed to have sex with her partner, and sent for invasive medical tests throughout the pregnancy. She will sign a form agreeing to have one or more foetuses aborted for any number of reasons, such as multiple births or the detection of abnormality, and will be required to undergo Caesarean section to give birth, the date of which will be decided by the commissioning parents. She will be unable to see or make physical contact with the baby, which will be immediately removed from her.
An economically disadvantaged woman may be coerced into signing a contract that conflicts with her deepest values. She might also discover at the end of the pregnancy that she feels she cannot give away the baby she has carried and formed an attachment to. People often cannot make free, informed moral and personal judgments when they are acting under existential duress: a problem that the wealthy intended parents, and their agents, do not have to face.
The authors of this letter are both human rights activists who have been involved in our community overcoming oppression and bigotry for a number of years. We are for, not against, equality for all.
Surrogacy simply reduces women and children to a means to a desired end product. The universal right to a child does not exist. Yet we believe that a climate has arisen where anyone who expresses this view risks being called a “homophobe”.
Surrogacy has become so normalised as a practice for gay men that it is now seen as entertainment as well as a right. One surrogate mother, who gave birth to a baby “belonging” to a star of a TV remodelling programme and his partner, claims to have had no idea that the birth was being filmed and subsequently screened. The woman’s (blurred out) vagina and the entire birth process were filmed close-up and aired on an episode of Bravo’s Flipping Out. The men could be heard making hideous remarks about the surrogate mother’s genitals. This disgusting verbal misogyny gives explicit expression to the tacit mind sets that regard the exploitation of vulnerable women as acceptable in the service of providing the commercial transaction of a baby to rich male (or opposite-sex) couples.
Surrogacy potentially harms the baby as well as the mother. We are calling upon you to consider how any baby might feel after developing a bond with the birth mother over nine months, only to be wrenched away from her as soon as the baby is born.
Let us, as proud lesbians and gay men, condemn this exploitative, cruel practice, and stand up for truerights. We need to set an example as a group that has done much to challenge bigotry and exploitation. We need to speak out against all surrogacy, and for true equality. The aspiration by gay individuals or couples to acquire a child via surrogacy arrangements has nothing to do with gay and lesbian rights. This practice is one that pretends to be about equality, but in fact is primarily concerned with extending the privileges of the rich, who are the only people able to access the services of the commercial surrogacy industry. There has never in the history of the gay and lesbian rights movement been an objective that would only benefit the wealthiest members of our community. Neither has there ever been an objective that could only be achieved at the expense of harm to other groups: in the case of surrogacy, to women and children. By legitimising this practice, the LGBT community risks delegitimising the moral standing that has been a basis for all the historical advances achieved by gay and lesbian activists and our allies.
Julie Bindel, journalist, author, and feminist campaigner
Gary Powell, political activist and educator
* In April 2018, a competition featured in the German LGBT+ website Queer.de offered a prize of egg donation plus the services of a surrogate mother in Bangkok, at a value of €36,000. This turned out to be a rather unfunny April Fool joke. When criticised by Julie Bindel, co-author of this letter, on the grounds that using the womb of a desperate and poor woman was a human rights abuse, she was accused of bigotry.
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