This post was written by local coordinator Edouard Hesse
On the 5th of october in France, the same group of people that opposed gay-marriage is calling on people to take the streets in order to oppose this great evil that is surrogate motherhood.
In France surrogate motherhood, which enables the carrying of a pregnancy by another woman for parents who cannot conceive, is completely prohibited, whether it is a commercial or altruistic agreement. So what brings all those people in the street? A recent judgment by the European Court of Human Rights compels France to recognize the nationality of children born by surrogacy elsewhere in the world. But this judgment does only that: in no way the French government is about to legalize surrogacy. The Prime Minister recently gave an interview where he claimed he was opposed to surrogacy, putting an end to any doubt that there could have been room for a bit more liberty in France.
In this anti-surrogacy fight, catholic conservatives ally themselves with Marxists for whom the commercial aspect of surrogacy is unbearable. So what are the arguments of this unusual alliance?
Those signs read “You can’t put a price on children”, “in India a baby costs 40.000€, in France it is still priceless”, “women are not baby factories”. The basic mistake of those arguments is quite obvious: what is bought and sold here are not babies, but the renting of a woman’s womb, and nothing else. Those women are financially compensated for the long discomfort and effort of carrying a child. Nobody ever said that you could put a price on children: that argument is a strawman. Buying a person has been illegal since the abolition of slavery, and that’s obviously a good thing. Comparing surrogacy to slavery makes no sense at all since those 2 things are completely different in nature.
Likewise, nobody ever said that women are baby factories: enabling a woman who so wishes to rent her womb for another couple is in no way akin to saying that “women are baby factories”. Each and every woman is free to make her own choices, to live the life she wants, and nobody should ever force a woman who doesn’t consent to carry the child of another couple.
When you refuse a woman her right to self-ownership, you deny her dignity. When you make it illegal for a woman to use her body as she so wishes, it’s an unjust and outrageous attack on her agency. If a women consents to carrying the child of another couple, the choice should be hers, and hers only. Feminists who famously claim to defend “my body my choice” should be fierce defenders of this right.
Let’s review the arguments that the anti-surrogacy people use. “The exploitation of women is intolerable”: yes, indeed the exploitation of women is intolerable. As explained above, refusing a women her right to self-ownership is an obnoxious way to exploit and control her. Is it the commercial aspect of surrogacy that makes it exploitative? This would suggest that women are not able to make choices for themselves: society (and by “society”, people usually mean the State) has to do those choices for them since they are obviously ignorant and irresponsible. A woman is in dire straits, carrying the child of another couple to term would enable her to live a comfortable lifestyle for some time and get her out of misery? She is refused this choice because she is supposed to be unable to do it.
« Because to take away a man’s freedom of choice, even his freedom to make the wrong choice, is to manipulate him as though he were a puppet and not a person. »
― Madeleine L’Engle
But let’s accept this exploitation argument for a moment. Is there a better and more humane way to deal with it rather than complete prohibition? Rules could be put in place so as to avoid the occurrence of a desperate woman doing a choice she’ll regret, as a famous French feminist suggests. We could even go as far as allowing only altruistic surrogacy, keeping commercial agreements outlawed. This would still be a step in the right direction.
“Children are not objects”
Anti-surrogacy people excel at the art of making strawmen. Nobody ever claimed that children are objects, and recognizing women’s rights to carry a child for another couple is in no way akin to saying that children are objects. When you allow women to use their body as they so wish while offering a solution for couples who cannot conceive, how in the world are you making children objects?
“Children need a father and a mother”
Those people still need to scientifically prove that there is a great risk in having parents who are not composed of a woman and a man, or at least a greater risk that the one involved with traditional family models. But let’s accept this argument: is there a better and more humane way to deal with it rather than outright prohibition? Surrogacy could be allowed for parents composed of a man and a woman.
In France a lot of liberals join the anti-surrogacy crowd in the name of a fight against the “right to have a child”. But legalizing surrogacy is in no way similar to guaranteeing a “right to have a child”: such a right would make it so that if a couple wanted a child, the State would be compelled to give them one. Women could be forced to carry the child of another couple to term because this couple is entitled to a child, and that would be truly disgusting, as it should. There is a world of differences between allowing consenting women to carry the child of another couple through a voluntary contractual agreement, and forcing this same woman to carry that child in the name of a “right to have a child”.
Liberals and feminists should be allies in this just cause. For feminists, the prohibition of surrogacy motherhood should cause them outrage since this is just another way to control women’s bodies. For liberals, this prohibition should be denounced in the name of the long intellectual tradition that aimed at recognizing people’s right to self-ownership. Conservative leaning liberals should join the cause because this right to freely use one’s body doesn’t conflict with the right to life, like in the abortion debate. Here, on the contrary, it’s all about enabling life, not taking it away.
Friends from the catholic right, you should also be fierce defenders of this wonderful technical progress that is surrogacy. Don’t believe me? If you’re a French-speaker, read this story, it will save you time rather than going to the street to protest against a change that is not about to happen.