There has been a fair bit of coverage over the past week of the Queensland Govt's proposal to remove access to altruistic surrogacy for Gay and Lesbian couples, as well as single people and de facto heterosexual couples who have been all shacked up for less that 2 years. First up, let me just say, I do not support this proposal. I find it discriminatory and consistent with the acts of a government who is looking to erase almost all signs of diversity within its constituency. To apply a law then exclude certain people from a law based on who they are (or are not) sleeping with is discriminatory and needs to be challenged. For me, that goes without saying.
BUT, there is no alternate reality that exists where I will be championing the "right" for anyone to access surrogacy. It speaks volumes to me that of the numerous news articles I read on this, there were many quotes from the Australian Christian Lobby cheering this as a win for the rights of children, and counterpoints from civil rights groups highlighting this move as discriminatory and illustrating how gay parents were great parents as well, yet not a single article engaged with a women's rights activist nor a surrogate mother to gain that perspective. It appeared to me that the rights of women and women's bodies was yet again being eclipsed by the rights of children, the rights of right-wing lobby groups and the rights of prospective parents, although it's not like this is a new phenomenon, is it? Women's own rights over their bodies has been a central argument of the feminist movement for a very long time now, and the fact that once again they appear to have been ignored in this debate is something that really does not surprise me.
Here's why I have a problem with surrogacy, in a few dot points (we'll see...):
1. Women are not mere incubators of genetic material - Pregnancy has a number of physiological and psychological effects on a woman. It is a strenuous state that requires a number of sacrifices on behalf of the mother for it to be as successful as possible leading to the birth of a happy and healthy baby. As such, the idea that a woman can be sought as a carrier and eventual birthing machine for another human being really, in my eyes, dehumanises her and her experiences of pregnancy
2. Whilst it is illegal in Australia, surrogacy for payment is rife in other parts of the world and due to tight laws governing surrogacy here, there has been a vast increase in people using surrogate mothers overseas. One of the key centres for this is India, and as this article shows, the women engaged in to carry surrogates are usually quite impoverished, do sometimes bond with the children they carry and are subjected to rather extreme medical invention in order to ensure that they are successful in conceiving. What is not covered in this article is that there is also a lot of coercion that these impoverished women face, from families and partners in order to make some money, and a number of these women spend a good many years consecutively pregnant for other people just to try and increase their lot in life. Sounds rather exploitive if you ask me. In some parts of the US where commercial surrogacy is allowed, again the surrogate mothers tend to come mainly from lower socio-economic backgrounds and/or are of colour. The economic disparity that creates this market then is inherently exploitive. Even with altruistic surrogacy like in Australia, where there is no economic incentive and one might assume that this creates a less exploitive environment for surrogacy to occur, I still find myself asking whether coercion is a factor, and what the physiological and psychological consequences are because exploitation is not just limited to "economic" in my opinion.
3. On a point very personal to me, there are 200 million Missing Girls on the planet. There are orphans fighting for survival in war-torn countries, and there are children needing to be fostered for a number of reasons. As a woman who is already directly genetically-related to two children whom I adore via my siblings, and who is unlikely to be pregnant (for both political and physiological reasons) I've always seen that there is a different contribution I can make in my drive to try and make the world a better place for someone. There are a lot of children alone in this world, and genetic bonds do not always create "family". This is a point I put out there as a general point, and surrogacy is only one consideration in my stance on this.
I understand agency. I understand that some women may want more than anything to give someone else the joy of parenthood. I understand that a woman may feel incredibly empowered by this decision and like my personal stance in point #3 may also feel that she is doing her bit for the world. I am not questioning those individual stances or choices at all. But what I am questioning wholeheartedly is the situation we find ourselves in today, where a Govt can take a stand like this, and yet not a single thought with regards to these legislative changes revolves around the women involved in surrogacy at all. Something is very wrong with this situation, and women's rights cannot be secondary to prospective parents' rights nor to children's rights particularly when women's bodies are being regulated to produce these other "rights". I do wonder if women will continue to be invisible in the coverage on this issue until it reaches some sort of resolution in QLD. I hope not, because even though I have a rather hard-line stance, I would dearly love to hear more from radical and liberal feminist factions on these issues as they are debated, and I would certainly love to hear from surrogate mothers about their experiences. I don't know all, and my opinion is not omnipotent, but I DO KNOW that these voices are currently missing from the news coverage, and this is wrong.