New York’s current surrogacy laws permit a woman to carry a child for another parent, but they don’t allow her to be paid for doing it. And at the time of birth, the law recognizes the gestational carrier as the legal mother. Governor Cuomo seeks to change both of these laws, bringing New York into line with 47 other US states that permit contractual surrogacy arrangements. That would make 48 states with bad laws. Womb rental is akin to nine months of prolonged prostitution, and manufacturing children for sale.
New York’s motive for legalizing surrogacy is to avoid insulting the LGBTQIAP+ community. Along with infertile couples, they are the primary beneficiaries of womb rental. So opposition to surrogacy is called homophobic. That, however, is merely a convenient way to insist that women’s bodies should be on the commercial market.
New York’s legislative session ends on Wednesday. The bill to approve contractual surrogacy has passed the State Senate, though not yet the Assembly. Many lawmakers in Albany favor legalizing the practice on a fee basis. The opponents of fee-based surrogacy include Gloria Steinem, the Catholic Church, and a few New York Assemblywomen. The Church believes that, as with sex work, paying for the use of a woman’s body is to objectify and commodify that body. If money changed hands for this service, it would legalize the buying and selling of children.
New York State permits women to carry a child for others out of altruism, just as it permits organ donation. Yet organs are not allowed to be bought and sold. So why should the rental of women’s unique organs be any different? If so, what are the ethical standards for this practice? Gestation should not become a profession. The Handmaid’s Tale is not made better by monetary compensation.
Governor Cuomo has stated that progressive lawmakers who oppose legalizing contractual, fee-based surrogacy should not call themselves progressive. This may be a progressive cause for the LGBTQIAP+ people who demand equal access to the means of gestational production. But it comes at a cost to another, far more numerous but often less affluent interest group: women.
Allowing women to receive payment for renting their wombs and space inside their bodies will inevitably encourage some women to enter the often dangerous condition of pregnancy simply for money. This incentivizes poor and unemployed women in particular, who are at greater risk to become prostitutes. It’s not typically the rich, well educated women who sell their bodies.
In states where commercial surrogacy is legal, women who already have families and children of their own often undertake surrogacy as a work-from-home option. The toll that pregnancy takes on a woman’s body is passed on not to the client who hires her body, but to her immediate family, including her own children, and to society. Will the surrogate customer undertake to guarantee all medical liability arising from pregnancy for the rest of the surrogate mother’s life?
If and when artificial wombs become commonplace, anyone who wishes to gestate a child for their own purposes will have the right to do so, and further ethical decisions will have to be made about how to allocate a life-giving resource. But we should not authorize the rental of women simply because people want to buy babies.
The progressive stance on matters maternal is peculiar, and lacks logical consistency. Progressives want to permit legal abortion, because the government has no place in women’s wombs. But progressives also want government to authorize womb rental because a well-organized lobby of above-average earners feel entitled to their use. Progressives distrust capitalism and claim to defend the poor. But progressives are calling for extending capitalism into the wombs of poorer women, and often for the benefit of wealthier male couples.
There are good reasons why organ sale is illegal. For many, the temptation to earn money through commodifying their own body parts would be hard to refuse. Until organ sale is permissible, the possibility of womb rental should not be considered. New York State should stand up for the rights of women and the less powerful, remain one of the few states to criminalize this practice, and not move forward with legalization.