This is our truth, tell us yours
The story of the Australian couple who treated surrogacy as some kind of pick and mix arrangement and left behind their disabled child has made lots of headlines. The temptation to channel the average Daily Mail commenter and write “as a parent” is strong, but I shall try to avoid claiming any particular sacred knowledge borne of giving birth. So I shall say as a human being it seems a pretty shitty way to behave. While I defend the right of any person not to have to continue with a pregnancy once the child is born, it is your responsibility, you do not get to say can we return this one, it’s defective.*
I have a particular interest in surrogacy from a different direction though. It is common for those opposed to sex work to say we sell or rent out our bodies. It is of course rubbish, not only an insulting way to refer to sex work but an insight into their rather limited view of sex. Just like the patriarchs they worship they see a womans value as determined by how, and how many, penisies (peni?) enter her vagina. We are perceived to have sold our body since our worth is only predicated on preserving the virtue and purity of that body. There can be no sale of sexual services as that would firstly be a function of the mind (and women are only bodies) and sex is nothing more than the entry of the penis into the vagina.
Surrogacy however could be seen to be a renting of a body part. A couple pay someone for use of their womb for a certain number of months. Whilst the baby may genetically not be related to the womb bearer the womb is vital to its growth and eventual healthy birth. The person whose womb it is may also agree to other conditions, not drinking for example, for the duration of the arrangement. Renting usually means some control over, but not for an indeterminate period, nor does it allow you to do as you wish, for example if you rent a house you will need permission to redecorate. So unlike sex work it could be seen to be a rental arrangement. Some people seem to have an issue with this, for me it is a simple pro choice issue, if it is your womb it is yours to do with as you wish, including receiving money for for gestating an embryo.
This is where power imbalances are often raised, and I have seen already people saying that rich westerners must be stopped from renting the wombs of poorer women from the Global South. The sex work parallels are obvious, and worrying. White saviours leaping in to ban something because they assume women of colour must be being exploited rarely ends well. In this story the birth mother makes clear why she became a surrogate and the way her decision was based on the huge difference the money would make to her and her family. Yes, poverty is wrong, but in this case, and other like it, to assume people are not capeable of making hard choices is to infantalize them.
We must be very careful not to fall into a something must be done knee jerk reaction because two people showed a lack of humanity. There may be a need for better checks on those entering into surrogacy arrangements, as there are for those who adopt from overseas. However to ban surrogacy where one person is poorer, or to ban payment is to say that only some people have the right to decide what happens to their bodies and how they make money**. That must always be opposed.
*this is not to criticize those who have a child with disabilities adopted, that is a responsible choice, saying I cannot do this and am hoping that others may be able to.
**and yes, I am coming to the conclusion that should include organs, since the illegal trade exists anyway and Iran seems to show that allowing the trade can work, but it is a subject I know little of. There is does seem to be an idea that just like sex some things can be done “purely” if they are not paid for but once money changes hands it becomes exploitation.