According to the Polaris Project, human trafficking is defined as,
Human trafficking is a form of modern-day slavery where people profit from the control and exploitation of others. As defined under U.S. federal law, victims of human trafficking include children involved in the sex trade, adults age 18 or over who are coerced or deceived into commercial sex acts, and anyone forced into different forms of “labor or services,” such as domestic workers held in a home, or farm-workers forced to labor against their will. The factors that each of these situations have in common are elements of force, fraud, or coercion that are used to control people.
Does surrogacy fit this description? When a woman willingly enters into a contract to carry a child for someone else, is she being used, controlled and/or exploited? Christopher White answers with an emphatic, “Yes.”
White, the Director of Education and Programs at the Center for Bioethics and Culture, recently wrote in Forbes that surrogacy is the epitome of human trafficking, “nothing short of the buying and selling of children.” If someone is exchanging money for a person, is controlling that person even for a short period of time, and is exploiting a weakness of that person, it’s human trafficking.
Circle Surrogacy, a leading industry agency estimates that surrogate pregnancies average between $80,000 to $120,000. Figures from another agency, ConceiveAbilities, lists a base fee of $30,000 “paid monthly from the second heartbeat through delivery” to the surrogate. Most surrogate agencies require their surrogates to have already given birth in order to prove they can carry children to term, and the profile of a typical surrogate is a stay at home mom or part-time worker looking to contribute to her family’s income, which is usually under $60,000 a year.
Women typically choose to become surrogates for one of two reasons: compassion and/or money. For those who become surrogates for money, the average pay is $3/hour, based on the length of a typical pregnancy. In the United States alone, some $8 billion dollars is spent every year by parents seeking surrogacy as a means to become parents. White recounts the story of Jessica, a young woman who was the product of surrogacy, a fact her parents hid from her. She is now actively working to make surrogacy illegal.
[F]or surrogate children, this is nothing short of the buying and selling of children—a modern form of human trafficking. Jessica’s own blog refers to her being a product of surrogacy in order to emphasize the commodification of human life brought about by this industry. While Jessica was conceived via traditional surrogacy in which the surrogate used her own eggs, increasingly more common is gestational surrogacy where donor eggs are used so that the child has no biological relation to the surrogate. Motivating these efforts are parents who want to ensure that since they are already spending tens of thousands of dollars on their child, that they are also able to select the perfect egg—most often one produced from an attractive and smart egg donor.
And for the surrogates who are motivated by compassion for the infertile couple desperately seeking a child, they too admit to underestimating the emotional and physical tolls of carrying someone else’s child. In the stories they recount, they speak of their own unexpected attachment to the child—an attachment that lasts long after the birthing is complete. Also told are stories of intended parents treating surrogate mothers as mere vessels or second-class citizens who are simply hired to rent out their wombs. Little consideration is given to the fact that pregnancies involve much more than just the rental or hiring of one’s uterus—it demands full bodily commitment.
One could argue that a woman chooses to become a surrogate; no one forces her. Therefore, it’s not “slavery” or “trafficking.” However, if you knew someone was going to volunteer to be held in a windowless basement for a year for pay, working to clean a family’s home daily, with no contact with the outside world and no ability to control their own comings and goings, wouldn’t you wonder how free that person was in “volunteering?” Wouldn’t you wonder why a person would “volunteer” for such treatment, why they would even consider living in this situation?
Just because someone volunteers for unjust treatment, doesn’t make it right.