NPR’s Goats and Soda covered a debate in India over surrogacy.
In India, there is a thriving industry of women who are paid to be surrogate mothers, carrying another couple’s children. Many surrogates are impoverished women, and there are growing concerns that paying poor women to be surrogates amounts to exploitation. Some are calling on the government to outlaw paid surrogacy, leaving only “altruistic” or unpaid surrogacy.
Aspects of the Indian system are deeply flawed. The NPR reported how many women failed to receive the payments they were promised, were misled about procedures, and had induced, involuntary abortions.
NPR’s story focused on one woman, Isha Devi, who is pregnant with another couple’s twins. She would never have considered surrogacy under ordinary circumstances, but after her husband was in an accident which left him unable to work and the family with a huge medical bill, it was her last resort to keep the family afloat.
The payments she receives aren’t enough to pay off the debt, support her family, and keep herself healthy. She often goes hungry.
But would outlawing paid surrogacy really help someone like Isha?
Isha became a surrogate because she needed the money. Of the few options available to her—a woman with a family, and a husband too injured to work—she chose what she judged was her best option.
Eliminating paid surrogacy wouldn’t improve Isha’s situation. She might not be pregnant, but she would still be in debt, struggling to support her family. Taking away her choice to become a surrogate limits her options without improving her situation. The problem here isn’t paid surrogacy, but poverty.
This is true of other allegedly exploitative work in impoverished countries, too, like sweatshops and child labor. Before calling on the government to ban something over exploitation, we should always ask: what’s the next best alternative?
Check out the video below for Professor Benjamin Powell’s perspective on the topic.
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