Surrogate Motherhood

Brian Clowes
April 30, 2020
Reproduced with Permission
Human Life International

In essence, [surrogacy] is the ultimate manifestation of the neoliberal project of capitalist commodification of all life to create profit and fulfill the narcissistic desires of an entitled elite. --Kathleen Sloan, director of the Connecticut chapter of the National Organization for Women. 1

What Is Surrogacy?

Surrogate motherhood is the oldest form of assisted reproduction. Historians relate that it was practiced in several ancient societies, usually for the purpose of circumventing laws that allowed a husband to divorce his wife on the grounds of her alleged infertility. 2

A surrogate mother is a woman who agrees to carry someone else's baby after becoming pregnant using some form of assisted reproduction, usually in-vitro fertilization (IVF) or artificial insemination. The surrogate's baby usually undergoes prenatal genetic diagnoses (PGDs) early in the pregnancy. If the baby is found to be healthy, she carries it to term, delivers in a hospital, and turns the baby over to the adoptive parents.

Usually, a surrogacy is arranged if the wife is infertile or cannot carry a pregnancy to term for a variety of health reasons. Lately, homosexual couples have been resorting to surrogacy in order to have a child. Increasingly, some wealthy women simply do not want to do the "dirty work" of carrying a pregnancy to term. These women consider it a bargain to pay $50,000 to avoid stretch marks and keep their slender figures. 3 This practice is sometimes called "Rent‑a‑Womb" or "mercenary motherhood." If a woman receives no compensation for carrying someone else's child, she is considered to be participating in "altruistic" as opposed to "commercial" surrogacy.

There are two general types of surrogacy:

  1. "Traditional" surrogacy is also referred to as "partial" or "genetic" surrogacy, and involves artificial insemination. In these arrangements, there is a genetic relationship between the father and the child (if the adopting father's sperm is used), but no such relationship if donor sperm is used. In both cases, of course, the surrogate is the genetic mother of the resulting child.
  2. "Gestational" or "full" surrogacy involves the implantation of an embryo produced through IVF. In such cases, there is no genetic relationship between the surrogate mother and the child.

Surrogacy Ethical Issues

Surrogacy Ethical Issue #1: Mistreatment of the Mother

Whatever form it takes, surrogate motherhood is a form of "reproductive prostitution." 4 In street prostitution, the woman sells or rents her body or body parts, the relationship to the "customer" is entirely impersonal, she must do what she is told, her value or usefulness comes solely from her function, she is to leave when she is told, and if there is a pimp, he gets a share of the money. The only difference with surrogacy is that the "pimp" has a medical or law degree. As Kathleen Sloan's quote above shows, even some of the most extreme pro-abortion feminists recognize the potential for exploitation of women who agree to become surrogate mothers.

The practice of surrogacy has raised a dense thicket of legal and psychological questions centered on the surrogate mother. Is she an employee, a prostitute, or a slave? And what does she feel about relinquishing a child she has nurtured for nine months? Most studies claim that feelings of regret among surrogates are rare, but the high-profile custody battles between surrogates and intended parents (remember the Mary Beth Whitehead and Anna Johnson cases?) seem to indicate that there is a lot that is not being revealed by the medical establishment.

Marketing expert Thomas Frank summarizes the primary problems inherent in such an arrangement:

Surrogate motherhood has been the subject of much philosophical and political dispute over the years. To summarize briefly, it is a class-and-gender minefield. When money is exchanged for pregnancy, some believe, surrogacy comes close to organ-selling, or even baby-selling. It threatens to commodify not only babies, but women as well, putting their biological functions up for sale like so many Jimmy Choos [expensive women's designer shoes]. If surrogacy ever becomes a widely practiced market transaction, it will probably make pregnancy into just another dirty task for the working class, with wages driven down and wealthy couples hiring the work out because it's such a hassle to be pregnant. 5

Mr. Frank identifies one of the problems surrounding surrogate motherhood that most people do not even think about - the exploitation of poor women, both in this nation and in others.

One of Gandhi's "Seven Deadly Sins" was "commerce without morality." He would be grieved to learn that his home nation of India is now known as the "surrogacy hub" of the world because surrogacy costs are so low there. For years, poor Indian women have been exploited by rich Western couples, and surrogacy is now a multi-billion dollar industry in that nation. Because of rampant abuses, the Indian government has moved to ban the practice of commercial surrogacy, while allowing it to continue only for closely related relatives. This move, of course, has raised howls of protest from homosexuals who want children, and from some feminists who have trotted out the old tired slogan that women should be able to do whatever they want with their own bodies - even if they are being ruthlessly abused and misused.6

Interestingly, most contracts between the surrogate and the husband and wife insist that the surrogate abort the child if genetic tests show abnormalities unacceptable to the husband and wife - in direct conflict with the surrogate woman's alleged "right to choose."7 Proponents of "surrogate motherhood" deny any infringement of rights, of course, because they say that the baby in question is mere property under contract.

Surrogacy Ethical Issue #2: The Interests of the Child

God designed the family in a way that serves the best interests of the child, and an abundance of peer-reviewed research confirms that this arrangement is the most advantageous for children in all of the aspects of their beings - physical, mental, emotional and spiritual. Surrogacy introduces a fracturing influence that can be very detrimental to a child whose parental figures are multiplied. Such children may have as many as three mothers (egg donor, surrogate and adoptive) and two fathers (sperm donor and adoptive). British author Christine Whipp said , "My existence owed almost nothing to the serendipitous nature of normal human reproduction, where babies are the natural progression of mutually fulfilling adult relationships, but rather represented a verbal contract, a financial transaction and a cold, clinical harnessing of medical technology."

In response to a question about whether "surrogate motherhood" is morally licit, the Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith replied in its document Donum Vitae :

No, for the same reasons which lead one to reject artificial fertilization: For it is contrary to the unity of marriage and to the dignity of the procreation of the human person. Surrogate motherhood represents an objective failure to meet the obligations of maternal love, of conjugal fidelity and of responsible motherhood; it offends the dignity and the right of the child to be conceived, carried in the womb, brought into the world and brought up by his own parents; it sets up, to the detriment of families, a division between the physical, psychological and moral elements which constitute those families.

For the reasons already described, the Catechism of the Catholic Church reiterates this principle: "Techniques that entail the dissociation of husband and wife, by the intrusion of a person other than the couple (donation of sperm or ovum, surrogate uterus), are gravely immoral " [¶2376].


To put it briefly, surrogacy may appear to be a good idea at the time, but it does not serve the best interests of the intended mother or the child who is born of a surrogate mother. And, of course, to ask a woman to give up a child she has carried for nine months, regardless of how much she is compensated financially, will usually leave psychological and emotional scars .