This letter will be hand-delivered to New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s office.
March 11, 2019
The Honorable Andrew M. Cuomo
Governor, State of New York
New York State Capitol
Albany, NY 12224
Dear Governor Cuomo,
We are writing to you as signers of the international group Stop Surrogacy Now. We number more than 10,000 and come from all walks of life. We are hetero- and homosexual, partnered and single and we vary in our political and religious beliefs. We live in the Global South and the Global North with many of us residing in the USA including New York State.
We are a diverse group, but we share one common goal: to stop the normalizing of surrogacy portrayed as an act of love and kindness by the media when yet another celebrity tells us their good news story and thanks their ‘gestational carrier’ for their very own biological child.
We are very alarmed to see that you are proposing to pass the Child-Parent Security Act as part of the Budget Bill [S.1505-A/A.2005-A, Part QQ] which would see commercial surrogacy legalized in New York State. This, to us, would seriously jeopardize the image of New York as a sophisticated and ‘cool’ city (and state) with exciting museums, theatres and eateries. If this bill were to be passed, New York will instead be viewed internationally as a new paradise for reproductive tourism – similar to a rogue state like Ukraine – where businesses profit from the sale of women and their babies to well-to-do Americans and other foreigners.
We respectfully ask if this is really the image you want for your state and if you, as the Governor of New York State, would want to be responsible for this damaging reputation. India, Nepal, Thailand, and Cambodia have all closed their doors to commercial surrogacy. France, Spain, Germany, Italy, Switzerland, Sweden and Austria never allowed it – do you want New York to be the new go to place where you can shop for your made-to-order child?
As signers to Stop Surrogacy Now we oppose the global multi-billion-dollar surrogacy industry as a cynical money-making enterprise. It fundamentally violates the rights of those without whom there would be no smiling babies: the so-called surrogate mother or ‘gestational carrier’ (misogynist labels as she is a real life woman whose body grows the child for nine months until she gives birth to it), and the egg ‘donor’ whose ‘young’ ova with ‘good genes’ are often needed by older heterosexual couples and always in a gay surrogacy: men can only produce sperm.
Surrogacy also fundamentally violates the rights of the newborn child: she or he never consented to be a ‘take-away’ baby: removed from her birthmother – often after a cesarean section – and put in the arms of strangers who are now supposed to be the baby’s legal parents. One of them, the sperm donor, may indeed share genes with the baby but that is not what s/he knows. The child only knows the birthmother’s body with its smells and movements that has nurtured it for the last nine months. Every woman who has ever given birth will understand what that means and how profoundly unethical it is to remove a newborn baby from their mother. We don’t allow newborn puppies or kittens to be taken away at birth. Doesn’t a human baby deserve the same protection? And how nonsensical it is to argue that women ’choose’ to be surrogate mothers when, frankly, no woman knows prior to undergoing the pregnancy and birth how her feelings might change about giving away her child. But also, while a woman has the right to make reproductive decisions for herself, no woman has the right to make profound life decisions for the baby that she grows for money in her body and then has taken away.
Surrogacy is a clear human rights violation. It is a practice of exploitation that violates several U.N. conventions and other international treaties. For instance, surrogacy can be likened to slavery, which Article 1 of the United Nations Slavery Convention defines as “the status or condition of a person over whom any or all of the powers attaching to the right of ownership are exercised.” When a woman agrees to be a surrogate, she surrenders control over her life for the next nine months. The baby buyers (and their doctors) can stipulate in writing, in her contract, what she eats and drinks, who she has sex with and how often, how many tests she must agree to in order to make sure the baby she carries has no ‘defects’, and how many vaccinations she has. If this ‘quality control’ reveals imperfections, she can be threatened with breach of contract to undergo an abortion; if more than one embryo was implanted and develops, fetal reduction is often written into the contract she signs. If she decides against these medical interventions, the contracts often stipulate monies must be paid back.
The new Director of Spain’s Bioethics Committee, Federico de Montalvo, has made it clear that Spain will not be legalizing surrogacy, an unethical practice, that “turns children into consumer objects.”
No doubt you believe that your proposed Child-Parent Security Act will ‘regulate’ the transactions between buyers and sellers: well-off medically infertile heterosexual couples or socially infertile gay men on the one side, and on the other side socio-economically challenged birth mothers, often also of a so-called non-mainstream ethnicity. No doubt your advisors and supporters of this bill tell you so. Have you scrutinized how many of these people have vested interests in passing this bill? How many of them are associated with the fertility industry: IVF clinics, surrogacy brokers, attorneys, infertility counselors, egg donation agencies? Even the tourism industry might get in on the act: “reside in New York for 90 days and enjoy our sights and delights while you exploit some economically poor woman to jeopardize her health, fertility – even her life – to make you a much longed-for baby: quality-checked for defects and ready to remove from her/his mother straight after birth.” Or: “Import your own ‘carrier’ from wherever you are in the world, and we in New York will provide you with top service in our first-class fertility clinics and hospitals so you can take your dream child home.”
This is not sounding good, Governor Cuomo. We can assure you that however diverse the membership of Stop Surrogacy Now, none of us is a lobbyist for the fertility industry or those so-called NGOs such as Men Having Babies who set up shop around the world promoting the legalization of commercial surrogacy.
Surrogacy also profoundly violates the rights of the child, under the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. Article 2 prohibits the sale of children, and Article 35 stipulates that “State Parties shall take all appropriate national, bilateral and multilateral measures to prevent the abduction of, the sale of, or traffic in children for any purpose or in any form.” [emphasis added]. In surrogacy, children are clearly sold, what else is the surrogate mother being paid to do? Hand over the child after giving birth, in exchange for money. Surrogacy contracts are loaded with breach of contract language if the surrogate mother doesn’t comply. The punishment is always financial.
Surrogacy also contravenes Article 1 of the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the sale of children, which obligates governments to criminalize the sale of children. Proponents of surrogacy say that the birthmother is paid for her ‘services’, but this is blatantly untrue. If she miscarries or has an abortion, she will most likely not be paid. It is the ‘product child’ that the payment is for.
If you are still not convinced, Governor Cuomo, that you should withdraw your regulatory bill for commercial surrogacy, the Child-Parent Security Act, consider these problems that can arise (all documented in the forthcoming book Broken Bonds: Surrogate Mothers Speak Out):
For the birthmother:
- Hormonal drugs to ready her body for pregnancy may have serious short-term effects like continuous morning sickness for months and long-term effects such as cancer of the breast, ovary and uterus.
- Surveillance of pregnancy by fertility clinic and/or baby buyers such as repeated prenatal tests, interference with daily life habits (e.g. food choices, sex restrictions) can seriously affect her health as well as the relationship with her partner and children. Children who see their mother giving the new baby away are worried that, should they behave badly, they will be given away too.
- Quite frequently, the infertile female partner cannot cope with seeing another woman doing what she cannot do: be pregnant. Apart from feeling an abysmal failure, this may also result in the infertile woman treating the surrogate harshly and without compassion which in turn increases the pregnant woman’s chances of developing gestational diabetes, high blood pressure and/or placenta previa, a life-threatening condition for mother and baby that needs long-term bed rest.
- When disagreements arise between the pregnant woman and the ‘intended parents’ – which happens frequently – the baby buyers may stop paying the birth mother’s bills which greatly increases her stress levels.
- The trauma of the birth and the immediate removal of her child may create serious and long-lasting mental health issues for the birth mother including post-natal depression, PTSD, suicidal ideation and triggers such as the annual birthdate of the child she carried and delivered.
- Should the birth mother decide that she does not want to relinquish her birth child and the matter goes to court, the stark financial inequality between buyers and sellers becomes obvious. Surrogate mothers do not have the necessary financial means to hire attorneys and fight for their child and thus, in the overwhelming majority of such cases, they lose their child(ren).
For the egg donor:
- Short-term health problems such as feeling ill from hormonal drugs to stimulate growth of egg cells in her ovaries.
- Ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome (OHHS): serious and life-threatening complications such as risk of stroke, torsioned ovaries, organ failure and, in rare cases, death.
- The egg retrieval procedure risks damage to the ovary and bladder, including infection.
- Long-term health problems such as terminal breast cancer, uterine cancer, and ovarian cancer. Egg ‘donation’ can also negatively impact her own future fertility.
The children born from surrogacy too face significant problems:
- Feelings of not belonging to the family who bought her/him; similar to children who were adopted.
- Life-long search for their birth mother and genetic mother – the egg ‘donor’ – and biologically half-related siblings. This is similar to children who were donor conceived.
- As Jessica Kern, a young woman born of surrogacy in 1984 said to the New York Post: “Like I would choose this for myself? When the only reason you are in this world is a big fat paycheck, it’s degrading.”
Governor Cuomo, women’s wombs and eggs are big business. Laws, regulations, and contracts overwhelmingly protect those with money, not those who need money – which is why they engage in these practices in the first place.
One of your key platforms in the 2018 Women’s Agenda for New York is Equal Rights and Equal Opportunity. The proposed CPSA will not achieve this goal. On the contrary: it will turn some women into paid commodities to be used by those with power and money. Equality for some, at the expense of others.
Governor Cuomo, the International Community is watching developments in New York State. We hope that your good conscience prevails, and you will follow the lead of most other countries in the world who say NO to commercial surrogacy. Please join us and say no to the CPSA.
The Center for Bioethics and Culture
On behalf of Stop Surrogacy Now (Signatories Attached)
- 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.