My thanks to the Casablanca Declaration for your kind invitation to be with you at this historic moment in surrogacy law.

I’ve been asked to speak today on The Market Based on the Exploitation of Women – being from California, I have a front seat on what this market, that I call Big Fertility, looks like. The laws in California that govern the selling of eggs and the renting of wombs, protect the monied interests of the Baby Markets. The agencies. The lawyers. The brokers. The fertility doctors. And most importantly, the purchasing parents. 

Most recently, we had a horrific surrogacy case break in the news in the United States.  A veterinarian in Chicago has been accused of distributing child pornography and detailing his plans to sexually assault his unborn child, carried by a California surrogate, in messages he shared online.  What will become of this child once it is born, we do not know. What we do know is legally/contractually, she has no claim to this baby once she gives birth.  I can’t imagine the trauma this surrogate mother is experiencing, knowing that in her thinking she was “helping to build a family” she was in fact, helping a child predator molest a little baby.  I’ve been asked, “will the surrogate be able to keep the baby?”  Sadly, I don’t know and I don’t know if she would even want to.  Many surrogates do surrogacy first for money, not to have more children.  And it is common legal practice, in the United States, that before a surrogate mother is even pregnant, she legally severs her maternal rights or any claim to the child she has been paid to gestate. The market dictates that the child is the product being ordered, bought, sold, and paid for and the woman is just the vessel to fulfill this transaction.

Here is another story from Linda, a California surrogate.

Linda is a two-time surrogate. As is common, her first surrogacy arrangement, according to Linda went without any problems, so as a young married mother, with her own children, she decided to do another surrogacy.  This time the contract was between her and a couple from China. During her pregnancy, carrying twins for this couple, the purchasing parents told Linda that they were now getting a divorce and wanted Linda to terminate the pregnancy. They told her they would pay her an additional $80,000 to do this.  Linda was shocked and offered to adopt the twins once they were born. The purchasing mother, who was quite wealthy explained that she didn’t want her children to be raised in a lower income household.  Linda refused the termination, gave birth to the twins.  She does not know the end of the story but was told the little boy twin was given up for adoption but the Chinese mother kept the little girl.  Linda now struggles with PTSD because of the trauma of her surrogate pregnancy.

A whistleblower contacted me once to tell me about what was going on at the California agency where she worked. She had been hired to work only with their VIP clients. I asked her who these VIP clients were and she said, “Oh they come from China and they have buckets of cash!”.  She described how it was common that they would get three surrogates pregnant at a time and once pregnancies were confirmed along with sex of the babies and if it was a case of twins, then they would decide which pregnancy to keep and which two women would be told to terminate the pregnancy.  She said, once an ultrasound appeared to show a baby was missing a finger, so the surrogate had to terminate the pregnancy since the baby was defective. When you treat human reproduction as a financial transactional market, these sorts of abuses happen regularly.

Another California surrogate who was hired to carry twins for a couple in China suffered more trauma when she delivered the twins.  The purchasing parents were mad that they didn’t get the babies they ordered and demanded the surrogate pay back half of the costs.  They requested $5000 be returned for the baby they didn’t order. They wanted her to pay $3000 to share the cost of the cesarean section required to deliver a twin birth and wanted the surrogate to pay them $5000 for “mental damage” since they did not receive what they ordered and paid for. Of course the surrogate did not have this money as she had spent the compensation for the pregnancy to cover her bills each month.

The list of casualties from surrogacy in the U.S. is long and growing. 

We have had surrogate mothers in the US die.  Sometimes even the babies they carry for the purchasing parents have died too.

There have been two surrogate mother deaths in California that we know of.

Michelle Reaves – mother of two – died, amniotic fluid embolism. Michelle’s husband lost his wife and their two sons lost their mother.

Crystal Wilhite – also mother of two – died of complications from her surrogate pregnancy, again leaving her husband a widow and their two children motherless.

Brooke Brown was pregnant with twins, being paid by a couple in Spain to carry their babies. Brooke and the twins died – a full term pregnancy that died of emergency complications, leaving Brooke’s husband a widow and their 3 sons without a mother.

Lydia Cox – a wife and mother – died like Michelle Reaves, from an amniotic fluid embolism.

Some surrogate mothers who die are nameless and referred to only as “Jane Doe”.  I only discover these deaths when I discover a death announcement online which is associated with fundraising campaign to help provide financial support for motherless children.  When Brooke Brown died, her “surro sisters” couldn’t even raise their $10,000 goal.

What is the Solution?  Big Fertility wants regulation.  While those of us here today call for a total abolition of renting wombs and buying children.  To the regulators I ask:

How do you pass laws that will regulate surrogacy so that you prevent health risks to mother and child?

How do you regulate to prevent trauma such as PTSD and depression and anxiety, to mother and child?

How do you regulate to prevent the death to women and children?  What law could our lawmakers write and pass that would save lives?

How many women and how many children need to be harmed or died before the rest of the world stands with us to Stop Surrogacy Now?!

I will close with thanking the Italian Government and Prime Minister Meloni for doing the right thing and being the example to the world on how to protect women and children. Let us resolve to Stop Surrogacy Now.


Author Profile

Jennifer Lahl, CBC Founder
Jennifer Lahl, CBC Founder
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.