Wombs for Rent
A war on women that Left and Right can end together.


Surrogacy is one of those issues that is masked in terms designed to make people look away. “Gift” and “hope” and “miracle” are words third-party reproduction operations make money on, often ignoring real medical, never mind moral, concerns to women.The Surrogacy Parenting Agreement Act of 2013 is currently under consideration in the District of Columbia. Last week Kathleen Sloan, former program director of the Council for Responsible Genetics, along with Jennifer Lahl, president of the Center for Bioethics and Culture, testified against it, arguing that it is an open door to exploitation of women. Sloan, a member of the National Organization for Women’s national board, talks to National Review Online’s Kathryn Jean Lopez about some of the dangers of surrogacy.

KATHRYN JEAN LOPEZ: Is the U.S. really the Wild West of third-party reproduction?

KATHLEEN SLOAN: It is not an exaggeration to assert that the United States is the Wild West of third-party reproduction. Most countries, including all those in Europe, ban surrogacy as an illegal medical procedure. Some countries, such as Australia and Japan, not only make commercial surrogacy illegal, but criminally prosecute it. At the national level in the United States, there are no laws on surrogacy, and its 50 states constitute a patchwork quilt of policies and laws, ranging from bans (Mich.) to legalization with regulation (Fla.) to “anything goes” (Calif.). Moreover, over the last several years state after state — from New Jersey to Minnesota, and even Washington, D.C. — has introduced legislation to legalize commercial surrogacy. [Bobby Jindal just vetoed Louisiana’s bill.] More often than not, these bills are written by surrogacy brokers or surrogacy attorneys who benefit financially from the commercialization of reproduction. Most recently, as more and more states legalize same-sex marriage, many in the gay community advocate for, support, and sponsor commercial-surrogacy bills. For these reasons, the U.S. is second only to India in the supply of surrogates. However, even India has recently placed some limits on surrogacy, requiring that the buyers (intended parents) be heterosexual and that the country of the intended parents recognize surrogacy contracts. The U.S. is a favored destination for fertility “tourists.”

LOPEZ: How are military wives hurt by surrogacy?

SLOAN: Even among countries that allow surrogacy, the U.S. is alone in that many of its suppliers (surrogates) are wives of men in the military. Estimates vary from nearly 50 percent (Texas and California, where there are large military bases) to 20 percent in other states. It is no coincidence that surrogacy brokers and clinics are concentrated in areas close to military bases. Military publications such as Stars and Stripes and Army Times are filled with ads from surrogacy brokers. Just as campus newspapers and social media are full of ads soliciting college women for their eggs, media focused on the military are replete with ads seeking to recruit “military wives” as surrogates. A Newsweek cover story on April 8, 2008, titled “Womb for Rent: The Complex World of Surrogate Mothers,” stated: “Surrogate agencies target the population (military) by dropping leaflets in the mailboxes of military housing complexes such as those around San Diego’s Camp Pendleton and placing ads in on-base publications such as Military Times and Military Spouse.

Military wives are ideal supply sources for surrogacy brokers for several reasons: They are low income ($16-$28,000 per year), tend to marry and have their own children at very young ages (product reliability and good shelf life), their husbands are often away on tours of duty, and since they frequently move around, they themselves are unable to establish employment stability in a single location. Finally, the military inculcates its recruits with a call to serve “God and country”; this service mentality is a surrogacy broker’s dream, and makes it easier to exert emotional manipulation on these women.

The prospect of doubling their income (most surrogates in the U.S. are paid between $20,000 and $25,000 — averaging $3.00 per hour over a nine-month pregnancy) by serving as a surrogate is a powerful incentive to military wives. These women have few legal or regulatory protections, making them sitting ducks for exploitation and fraud. As with other surrogates and egg providers, they are not informed of the health risks or the lack of long-term studies on the effects of surrogacy.

There is also great potential for fraud. Those seeking to have a child through surrogacy try to use the health insurance provided by the federal government to military personnel — Tricare — which covers pre-natal care and childbirth, to cover surrogacy pregnancies. There is no policing by Tricare to determine whether a military wife is having a child with her husband or selling the use of her body — and using taxpayer dollars to pay for — a surrogate pregnancy. They can simply lie.