Remarks, as delivered at Object UK’s Surrogacy: The Harms and the Humans Conference:
When you read LGBT+ media reports these days about gay men who have children via surrogacy, don’t be surprised if there is no reference to surrogacy in the article. In the name of so-called equality, we are supposed to pretend that women aren’t needed in order for gay men to become the parents of babies. Women – mothers – are erased from this political reconstruction.
Or else the gaslighting in such reports can be even worse. Recently I read an article in an Australian publication that described a gay man who had commissioned a child via surrogacy as “the first male in history to give birth to a boy in Victoria.” Everyone knows he didn’t give birth to anyone. The erasure of women from pregnancy and childbirth now includes descriptions that are physically impossible. The rainbow Orwellian forces mandate us to believe that 2+2=5.
Big Fertility is now a multi-billion-dollar global industry. It uses the increasing popularity of surrogacy among wealthy gay men in order to frame surrogacy as a “gay rights” issue. Or rather, as an “LGBT+ rights” issue, to use the initialism of the gay rights movement’s new colonisers, the misogynistic and homophobic gender lobby.
The gender lobby actively promotes surrogacy, treating the rights of women as unimportant. And a quasi-religious campaign that encourages children to identify as “transgender” and to pursue puberty blockers and cross-sex hormones, will lead to large numbers of sterile transgender-identified adults and create a new market for the surrogacy industry.
I’m a gay man who speaks out against surrogacy. I’ve been a gay rights activist for over forty years and have been campaigning against surrogacy since 2014, after becoming aware of just how harmful it is to women and children.
But causing serious harm to women is increasingly seen as acceptable collateral damage in today’s culture of the Wild Woke West. The scale of the burgeoning misogyny we are seeing across the West is so serious that, in my view, we need to form a grand coalition of forces to oppose it.
A grand coalition involves setting our other political differences aside and uniting on the specific issues of opposing gender ideology, opposing surrogacy, and defending child safeguarding. A crisis of this scale justifies a grand coalition. We can end this coalition when the battles have been won.
Our coalition is, of course, a non-military coalition. But perhaps the most successful grand coalition of recent times was the international military coalition formed in the Second World War to oppose fascism. Communists and pro-capitalist conservatives worked side-by-side with one another. Without this coalition, fascism would have won. Prioritising purity politics at that time would have resulted in catastrophic defeat.
The colonisation and institutional capture of Western societies by the LGBT+ lobby has created a situation of urgency. We are fighting against a new, woke, wealthy, establishment class; against ideologically-captured media, Big Tech, and educational establishments; and against hypocritical, opportunistic, and morally bankrupt multinational companies. In our grand coalition, we need activists from across the mainstream political spectrum. We also need thinkers and academics as well as front-line activists.
The personal vindictiveness from pro-surrogacy activists and publications becomes quite evident to anyone who campaigns publicly against surrogacy. As is the case with pro-gender ideology activists, they know they will never win on the arguments and evidence, so the main weapons they deploy are the invention and spreading of lies and disinformation, and ad hominem attacks.
I am often portrayed as someone who only opposes surrogacy if the commissioning parents are gay. Nothing could be further from the truth. These antagonists always omit that I am a longstanding gay rights campaigner, or even that I am gay. They want to misrepresent my opposition to surrogacy as blatantly homophobic. The truth is, however, that I oppose all forms of surrogacy, whether the commissioning parents are gay or straight, single or coupled. I support parenting by lesbian and gay people under appropriate circumstances. But surrogacy is never an acceptable way to bring new life into the world.
There is no such thing as a universal human right to be a parent. It is a sad situation when someone who wants to have a child is unable to do so. But no right can be asserted by one group that seriously undermines the rights of another group.
In surrogacy, the safety, health, and well-being of the birth mother – the surrogate mother – are put at risk. It is almost always low-income women who become surrogate mothers. Most of these women are risking their lives and health because they need money.
Compare commercial surrogacy with the selling of organs by living donors. The selling of human organs is illegal worldwide, with the notable sole exception of Iran. It is recognised that allowing people to sell and buy human organs is unethical. In the human organ market, the poor will be selling to the wealthy, creating a harvesting underclass.
In surrogacy, it is low-income women who become the harvesting underclass. Both the process of egg harvesting, and the process of carrying a baby as a surrogate mother, are fraught with danger, including danger to the baby. In gestational surrogacy, the birth mother is carrying an embryo or foetus whose genetic material is alien to her own, and all surrogacy pregnancies are higher-risk pregnancies.
No one dies as a result of not having a baby via surrogacy. However, people do die as a result of not being able to buy a kidney or a liver lobe. Yet surrogacy is legal in many states where living organ sales are recognised as unethical and are prohibited. It makes me wonder whether surrogacy is only legal because, unlike the case with the selling of living organs, the harvesting underclass that is exploited and put in danger by surrogacy doesn’t include any men.
The claim by the LGBT+ lobby and by Big Fertility that surrogacy is a gay rights issue, is completely bogus. Making any such claim treats women’s rights and children’s rights as axiomatically secondary to the demands of wealthy gay men.
No one – and that includes gay men – has a right to surrogacy, as though the harm caused to women and to children in the process were acceptable collateral damage. No minority group can legitimately claim to have a right that clearly undermines the rights of other groups.
Even if having a child via surrogacy were an intrinsic gay right, which it is not, then it would be a very peculiar right indeed. It would be radically different from other acknowledged rights in the gay liberation canon. This is because, in order to pursue surrogacy arrangements, you need to be wealthy. Far wealthier than an average UK working-class gay couple.
Pursuing commercial surrogacy arrangements in the USA will normally involve paying a six-figure sum. Even so-called “altruistic” surrogacy – legal here in the UK – will cost tens of thousands of pounds.
And the solution is certainly not to make surrogacy available to gay couples on the UK’s already-overstretched National Health Service. There are many people in chronic pain on long NHS waiting lists. Limited NHS funds should not be spent on increasing the exploitation and instrumentalisation of women by expanding the UK surrogacy market at the taxpayer’s expense.
There are some very serious gay rights campaigns that deserve our attention, such as the global decriminalisation of homosexuality, including working for an end to the execution, flogging, and imprisonment of people for consensual adult same-sex relationships. Or the campaign for lesbian and gay people once again to have our own separate spaces, organisations, and identity. The legalisation of surrogacy does not belong in any list of worthy gay rights campaigns, and it has nothing to do with gay rights.
In fact, the attempt to associate the lesbian and gay community with unethical demands and practices that cause harm to wider society, is a recipe for encouraging homophobia and a backlash against the gay community.
Commercial surrogacy is supposed to be illegal in the UK, forbidden by the Surrogacy Arrangements Act 1985. Alas, this legislation is a paper tiger. It allows for so-called “altruistic surrogacy”, where “reasonable expenses” are permissible, yet no definition of reasonable expenses is given. In fact, sections of the UK judiciary are very supportive of commercial surrogacy.
Take Lady Hale, for example: the previous President of the UK Supreme Court. That’s the Lady Hale who is otherwise known in Britain as the “Spider Woman”, and who handed down a highly controversial Judgment against the Government on Brexit prorogation. On 1 April 2020, she handed down a Judgment that awarded a woman over half a million pounds against the NHS, specifically so she could pursue commercial surrogacy arrangements in California.
This sum was specifically to cover the commissioning of four babies – yes, four – via commercial surrogacy: the number the woman said she had wanted to have. This followed a case of NHS clinical negligence that had sadly prevented the woman from carrying her own children, for which she had received a separate award of half a million pounds in damages.
The Supreme Court therefore awarded NHS public money to enable an individual to pursue four commercial surrogacy pregnancies abroad, despite commercial surrogacy being illegal in the UK.
Can you imagine the uproar if the Court had instead awarded this money so that a person could buy a kidney from a live donor in Iran?
This was, in my view, a clear case of judicial overreach, and Lord Reed, now the new Supreme Court President, and two other judges, dissented, describing the decision as “contrary to public policy”.
In fact, £74,000 had been offered to Lady Hale’s claimant, to pursue two legal “altruistic” surrogacies in the UK, but the claimant had turned it down. She wanted to pursue commercial surrogacy in California, where she believed she would feel more in control of the situation.
In her justification for the Judgment, Lady Hale referred to the fact that commercial surrogacy is a route by which gay men can have children. Here again, we see how the rights claims of wealthy gay men are regarded as legitimately overriding the rights of low-income women and the rights of the children produced in this process.
Lady Hale also expressed confidence in the possibility of successful regulation of commercial surrogacy. However, surrogacy is a process that is intrinsically exploitative and instrumentalising of women, and that puts the health and lives of both women and children in jeopardy. It is a process where a wealthy class exploits the financial insecurities of low-income women. As is the case with living organ sales, no amount of regulation will ever make an intrinsically unethical and exploitative process acceptable.
The women who sign surrogacy contracts also sign away their own control over their reproductive rights. If the commissioning parents demand an abortion, the birth mother could end up not being paid if she does not comply. And what happens if she decides, against the wishes of the commissioning parents, that she wishes to have an abortion and that she cannot go through with the pregnancy? If she does, she will be terminating an embryo or foetus of which she is not the biological parent. These are not moral crises that the law should simply regard as acceptable collateral damage. Economically vulnerable women should never be put in this position.
Furthermore, surrendering a baby at birth can be a distressing experience. The attachment formed between a birth mother and the baby often results in grief when the child is handed over at birth. The upset can last for years on end, as the birth mother wonders whether the child is healthy, happy, and being treated well. Especially in those cases where the mask slips and the commissioning parents reveal themselves during the pregnancy to be of bad character. Who wants to hand over a baby to bad people?
What about the potential harm to the children? What effect will it have on a baby to be immediately and permanently removed from her mother at birth, in such a vulnerable state, and handed over to others? We don’t even treat dogs like that. The UK Kennel Club insists that puppies should not be removed from their mothers for at least six weeks. Yet, in surrogacy, this is done to human babies with casual brutality.
Children also face the risk of “genealogical bewilderment”, where they may feel a sense of abandonment and of not being properly anchored in the world as a result of not knowing the identity of one or both of their genetic parents, or of their birth mother. There is also the challenge of coming to terms with having started life as a purchasable commodity, or an unconscious, deep-seated sense of abandonment at having been given away by one’s birth mother. All this can be a significant burden for a child to process; and, quite possibly, a burden for life.
All forms of surrogacy, for all people, represent a serious human rights violation. Surrogacy is not a gay right or an LGBT+ right. It is a practice that deserves nothing less than a global ban. And we need to forge the widest possible grand coalition to bring that ban about.
- Gary Powell is the European Special Consultant to the Center for Bioethics and Culture. In 2021 he was appointed as Research Fellow at the Bow Group, the oldest conservative think tank in the United Kingdom. He studied Philosophy under the tutorship of Baroness Mary Warnock, who chaired the UK Committee of Inquiry into Human Fertilisation and Embryology that led to the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 1990. Gary regards surrogacy as a human rights violation similar to the sale of human organs and campaigns internationally to raise consciousness about the harm it causes to vulnerable people. As a gay man, he opposes surrogacy as an unacceptable LGBT rights objective on account of the serious violations it causes to the rights of other groups.
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