Sitting on the desk of Louisiana governor Bobby Jindal awaiting a possible veto is legislation that codifies compensated contracts for gestational surrogacy, often referred to as the “wombs for rent” bill. The Louisiana senate author of the bill explained the process of gestational surrogacy to the senate health committee by likening the surrogate woman to an “oven” that bakes the bread made by another couple — that is, the human embryo conceived by in vitro fertilization. This language of commodification of women as products to be used is confirmed by the literal catalogue of women that are displayed as chattel on surrogacy broker websites.
Louisiana is thus poised to become the newest haven for reproductive brokers who profit from the exploitation of unborn children and financially vulnerable women. Individuals and organizations from both the right and the left opposed the legislation and are now waiting for a response to their veto-request letters (such as this one from the Bioethics Defense Fund, the organization where I am counsel) following passage in both houses by overwhelming majorities.
Louisiana SB 162 (2013) was promoted with the emotionally charged personal experiences of the bill’s senate author who, in his words, “used surrogates” in California and Nevada for the birth of his two beautiful children whose photographs were prominently displayed during testimony and in floor debates. To be clear, no one doubts the good intentions of couples experiencing the struggles of infertility, and everyone agrees that children born as a result of surrogacy contracts are entitled to the same love and respect owed to every member of the human family.
But behind the happy endings in relation to the “intended parents” lies a dark under-belly in relation to the woman hired as a “host uterus” — a term used by one Louisiana fertility clinic. And despite rhetoric to the contrary, we are indeed dealing with paid pregnancy. In states that sanction surrogacy with codified regulations, brokers target young single moms (since they are proven producers) with the offer of “reasonable living expenses” in the minimum range of $10,000 to $30,000 as disclosed on the DreamaBaby.com gestational surrogacy “pricelist.” These kind of bills therefore facilitate class exploitation by luring financially vulnerable women to serve as gestational surrogates for the wealthy.
No one hears about the multiple miscarriages experienced by the surrogate, and the alluring ads do not highlight the standard contract provisions regarding “termination of genetically abnormal pregnancies.” This practice goes beyond the “traditional” abortion rationale when a woman desires not to be pregnant, by crossing into the eugenic rationale of whether third parties want a hired woman to terminate a desired pregnancy of an undesirable unborn child.
Under current abortion jurisprudence, there is simply no legislative language that can prevent eugenic abortion. Under the abortion-on-demand regime of Roe v. Wade, state-sanctioned paid pregnancy must also include state-sanctioned paid abortion. While some surrogate women may agree to abort special-needs children for extra compensation, few hear about issues of coerced abortion, as in the case our organization briefly consulted on where a lawyer for the intended parents sent the surrogate threatening letters of monetary penalties citing the “abortion clause” when the surrogate had moral qualms about aborting the unborn child due to diagnosed birth defects.
The bottom line is that this high-tech form of human trafficking treats women and unborn children as commodities. Treating Louisiana women as “ovens” is simply not a good recipe for a state that respects the dignity of women, children and families.
— Dorinda C. Bordlee is senior counsel of Bioethics Defense Fund, a public interest legal and educational organization that puts law in the service of life. Learn more at www.bdfund.org/surrogacy. Follow us on Twitter and Facebook @bdfund.