Acton Institute Powerblog

Buying Babies: The Rise of Surrogacy In The U.S.

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I’m sure Willie Nelson was not thinking about surrogacy issues when he wrote “If You’ve Got The Money, Honey,” but it’s applicable. $100,000? Check. 9 months? Check.

If you’ve got the money honey I’ve got the time
We’ll go honky tonkin’ and we’ll have a time
We’ll have more fun baby all way down the line
If you’ve got the money honey I’ve got the time

While surrogacy is a huge industry in India, it’s becoming a growing business here in the U.S. now. In Austin, Texas, one couple from New Jersey awaits the birth of their children via a surrogate:

A nurse spread gel on Nicole Benham’s pregnant belly and slowly moved a sonogram wand over it, describing the images on nearby monitors. This scene, in which parents get an early glimpse of baby, is played out many times a day in medical offices across America, but this plot has a twist.

Benham is carrying twins, but they are not her babies. They belong to Sheila and Kevin McWilliams, a New Jersey couple who lost their firstborn and can’t have another child together. They provided the eggs and sperm, and they will bear all costs, which average $75,000 to $100,000 and include fees to the surrogate, the matchmaking surrogacy company and lawyers for both parties, experts said.

Despite such costs, U.S. surrogate births have jumped 250 percent in eight years, and experts expect them to continue rising because of advances in reproductive technology, increasing numbers of same-sex marriages and growing acceptance of surrogacy.


The U.S. is one of only a handful of countries – like India – that allow for paid surrogacy. That means big business. Other countries allow for “altruistic” surrogacy: a woman might carry a baby for a sister or brother, but there is no profit made. Those receiving the baby only pay medical expenses, for instance. Abby Lippman, an emeritus professor at McGill University in Montreal who studies reproductive technology, says making a profit on making babies makes for bad business.

Just like we don’t pay for blood or semen, we don’t pay for eggs or sperm or babies. There’s a very general consensus that paying surrogates would commodify women and their bodies. I think in the United States, it’s so consumer-oriented, so commercially oriented, so caught up in this ‘It’s my right to have a baby’ approach, that people gloss over some big issues.”

Germany is another nation that has thus far stayed away from paid surrogacy.

Ingrid Schneider of the University of Hamburg’s Research Center for Biotechnology, Society and the Environment said it is in children’s best interest to know that they have just one mother.

“We regard surrogacy as exploitation of women and their reproductive capacities,” Dr. Schneider said. “In our view, the bonding process between a mother and her child starts earlier than at the moment of giving birth. It is an ongoing process during pregnancy itself, in which an intense relationship is being built between a woman and her child-to-be. These bonds are essential for creating the grounds for a successful parenthood, and in our view, they protect both the mother and the child.”

That ideal is a long way from “gestational carrier” agreements “IPs” (Intended Parents) and clinics charging tens of thousands of dollars for services. The U.S. is now a destination spot for would-be parents. Again, if you’ve got the money…

International would-be parents often pay $150,000 or more, an amount that rises rapidly for those who do not get a viable pregnancy on their first try. Prices vary by region, but surrogates usually receive $20,000 to $30,000, egg donors $5,000 to $10,000 (more for the Ivy League student-athlete, or model), the fertility clinic and doctor $30,000, the surrogacy agency $20,000 and the lawyers $10,000. In addition, the intended parents pay for insurance, fertility medication, and incidentals like the surrogate’s travel and maternity clothes.

I’ve written here before about the commodification of humans in the surrogacy business, and the threat surrogacy poses to women, especially poor and vulnerable women. A baby has become a deserved item, a right, rather than a gift from God in Judeo-Christian thought. Want a baby? Buy a baby.  Want a boy baby? A baby with certain hair or eye color? Don’t want to take time off from your career or ruin a nice figure? If you’ve got the money…

We have no business being in the baby business. Surrogacy harms women and children. While surrogacy may appear to be altruistic, it’s bottom line is money. Rather than being a “perfect solution” for infertile or gay couples who desire a child (or Heaven forbid, a woman who wants a baby but also wants to keep her size 0 figure), it takes what should be a moment of co-creation with God and turns it into a business transaction. It preys on the most vulnerable: the infertile, the poor, the baby, taking a family relationship and creating a contractual obligation. Babies aren’t business.

Read “Coming to U.S. for Baby, and Womb to Carry It” at The New York Times.

Elise Hilton Communications Specialist at Acton Institute. M.A. in World Religions.

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