Rent-a-wombs or turning women into consumable goods
A law proposal has recently been presented in Spanish parliament which, if approved, would regulate what is described as altruistic surrogacy. The basic idea is to allow women above the age of 25, and with stable socio-economic conditions, to be able to act as surrogate mothers, as long as there is no financial transaction involved. Surrogacy is currently in a legal limbo in Spain: the law which governs assisted reproduction techniques does not give value to the agreement in which the surrogate mother renounces her rights to the child. With this law, the neo-liberal party Ciudadanos intends to allow this practice in the country in a restricted fashion.
Surrogacy is one of the many technologically feasible ways available for people that for whatever reason cannot have children in a purely natural way. However it is not as simple as egg or sperm donation: the carrier of the child is compromised for the duration of the pregnancy. There are also implicit dangers associated with being pregnant. Even though modern medicine does a good job in avoiding these, sometimes complications do arise, which can affect the mother, the child or both. Given these circumstances, who would be willing to act as a surrogate mother without compensation?
It is of no doubt that if this law is successfully implemented there will be cases of friends or family members offering their wombs. However it must be asked whether this law, or similar legislation, could be a back door to a rent-a-womb black market. It may be a negative take on this proposal, but it isn’t far-fetched to consider the possibility that it could be a path to economic exploitation with legal cover: women in need of money could be led to rent their wombs in exchange for a fee, with an altruistic cover story in case of legal troubles. This could lead to the creation of a rent-a-womb black market.
Let us push the speculation a little further. There is an intrinsic loss of tax income associated with the appearance of a black market. How can this be remedied? One way is the regularization of the practice from which this illegal market benefits. What if the legalization of altruistic surrogacy creates a significant enough underground economy to warrant the legalization of paid surrogacy? Given enough time, surrogacy would become normal in the eyes of the public, and it would seem reasonable to regulate it as an economic activity. It would be in the interest both of the surrogate mother and the receiving parents to ensure the safety of all parties involved. It would also ensure that the government doesn’t lose precious tax money.
Woman-kind has fought for centuries for the right to control both their outside lives and their bodies. It could be argued that it is within womens rights to act as a surrogate mother and that if they choose freely to do so, they should be able to. The key word here is freely. Under what conditions can a person make decisions freely? And back to the previous question, who would really subject themselves to surrogacy? If commercial surrogacy became an accepted practice, it is not likely that women with a stable economic situation will resort to it. Instead, it is reasonable to expect that it will be the poorer women who decide to offer their wombs. Let’s not fool ourselves, people subject to poverty are not free. They are in fact very limited by their economic status. In principle they have the same liberties as any other citizen, but in reality not being able to afford to pay for said liberties is a limiting factor. Capitalist societies are essentially feudal, with the role of the oppressor fulfilled by currency. In this sense, if a woman decided to resort to surrogacy for financial reasons it would not be a truly free decision.
In contrast, it is very likely that the people who could afford the services of a surrogate mother come from the upper classes of society. Wombs would essentially be another good for purchase, or in this case, rent. Everyone would be in principle free to pursue or offer the services of a surrogate mother. However, those who offer and those who purchase are likely to come from very different economic backgrounds. Following the discussion of the past few paragraphs, allowing altruistic surrogacy could open the floodgates to commercial surrogacy, and a new avenue of exploitation of the poor in benefit of the wealthy.
Even if all precautions to ensure fairness and legality are in place at the time of the transaction this practice would still be exploitation. One must consider that the most probable cause to offer oneself for surrogacy to be economic desperation. When people act with a sense of urgency, with the water reaching their necks, they are not free. They do not have the ability to choose the fairest deal. They react to survive, plain and simple. This is not an attack on the poor. It is criticism of the society which allows people to reach the most severe levels of poverty. I see surrogacy as a similar practice to organ selling. Look up the statistics, where do people who sell kidneys generally originate from? What country, and what economic background? Altruistic surrogacy deserves some hard thinking. Is it worth risking exploitation of women for the sake of legalizing a practice which in the best of cases is of dubious morality?