PODCAST: ‘Surrogacy is child trafficking’ — An interview with Kajsa Ekis Ekman

ekis ekman
Journalist, writer and activist, Kaisa Ekis Ekman, argues that the practice of surrogacy constitutes child trafficking and compares it to prostitution in her book, “Being and Being Bought: Prostitution, Surrogacy and the Split Self.”

In this episode, I speak with Ekman about the history of the practice, who is hiring surrogates and why, and her arguments against surrogacy.

Meghan Murphy
Meghan Murphy

Founder & Editor

Meghan Murphy is a freelance writer and journalist. She has been podcasting and writing about feminism since 2010 and has published work in numerous national and international publications, including New Statesman, Vice, Al Jazeera, The Globe and Mail, I-D, Truthdig, and more. Meghan completed a Masters degree in the department of Gender, Sexuality and Women’s Studies at Simon Fraser University in 2012 and lives in Vancouver, B.C. with her dog.

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  • Daleth

    Sorry, but her perspective is idiotic. By the same token, how is adoption not child trafficking? At least with surrogacy, in the vast majority of cases the baby is the genetic child of one or both parents.

    • Meghan Murphy

      Because adoption isn’t about buying women’s bodies and babies?

      • rob

        I’m sorry, so people who adopt children are johns now?

        • Meghan Murphy

          Um, wtf are you talking about?

          • rob

            “john” is a term used to describe people(men) who buy women’s bodies, you asked a question – “Because adoption isn’t about buying women’s bodies and babies?” that seemed (to me at least) to imply that you’re equating the two. Reading Daleth’s response below, I realize that I may have been mistaken.

          • Meghan Murphy

            No… I meant that adoption was NOT about buying women/babies… Like I said…

          • youngradicalfemme

            thank you for explaining the term John. THANK U

      • Daleth

        What is it “about” when you pay a middleman $20k-$30k, part of which goes towards the bio-Mom’s medical and legal expenses, and in exchange a woman gives you her child? (Note: HER child–not, as in surrogacy, your and your husband’s genetic child).

        What is it “about” when you pay an agency $30k-$40k and in exchange, a third world woman too poor to afford raising a child gives you her child?

        Don’t get me wrong–adoption is often, even usually, a wonderful thing. I just am pointing out that most if not all the arguments against surrogacy could also be made against adoption: exploiting poor women to get children, etc. I don’t think the arguments are any more valid when it comes to surrogacy than they are when it comes to adoption.

        • rob

          good response Daleth, if surrogacy is child trafficking, why isn’t adoption?

          • C.K. Egbert

            The main difference for me is that the purpose of adoption should be to provide a child with a loving home and it should not involve the “purchase” of a woman’s body.

            Surrogacy, on the other hand, requires the “purchase” of a woman’s body for the sole (and I’d say selfish) desire to have one’s own biological children. Adoption is a necessity (we need to remove children from abusive homes and find them better environments). Surrogacy is not.

            Thus surrogacy inherently involves exploitation, whereas adoption only contingently involves exploitation or trafficking (as in the case where it comes for a fee, whereas I think it should be free and based solely on the competency of the people to provide a loving home).

          • C.K. Egbert

            I shouldn’t have put purchase in quotes. Sorry to everyone, I don’t want to seem like I’m saying surrogacy isn’t the purchase of a woman’s body because it is (I think in the adoption case it is different, because a woman didn’t get pregnant for the money but got pregnant and decided to give up the child–although if the money she would receive provides incentive to continue the pregnancy rather than abort, that would count as purchasing).

          • shmiggen

            Is a fetus also exploiting a woman’s body if the pregnancy is unwanted? Can the fetus be described as subaltern, or is that the woman?

        • gxm17

          Usually women enter into an adoption agreement *after* they have become pregnant and made the decision put their child up for adoption. The woman has already decided to carry her pregnancy to term. And that’s not including the orphaned or abandoned children whose parents are either dead or have given up parental rights. Surrogacy involves picking a woman out of a notebook (sound familiar?) and paying her to become impregnated with and bear your child to term. The situations are so completely different that I can’t understand why you are conflating them.

        • Resse

          What your describing, monetary gain for the birth mother is illegal.

    • EEU

      If you can’t see the difference, you’re the idiot.

    • Daleth

      PS : it is jaw-droppingly insensitive towards actual slaves–from pre-Civil War plantation slaves to modern domestic slaves and sex slaves–for you to compare their horrific plight to an American mother who chooses to spend 9 months as a gestational surrogate in exchange for $50k.

      • nucr

        news flash, Daleth, the slaves that existed on American soil pre-Civil-War were not the only slaves in history. Slavery has taken many forms and many guises throughout history, and across many very different cultures. So, there must be something that unites all slaves, conceptually, mustn’t there? In order for us to call them all slaves, although they existed in different times and places, there must be. That unifying concept is the concept of one’s body being bought and sold as property, as an object. Sex slavery is a recognized form of slavery, and the entire point of comparing prostitution and surrogacy to sex slavery, and slavery in general, is to point out that in surrogacy and prostitution, women’s bodies– their sexual capacities and reproductive capacities–are being bought and sold as property, as objects. And that is wrong.

      • nucr

        the sums of money women are paid come out to about $0.50 – $3 per day. That is so far from any minimum wage, even, it’s hard to believe that you think that makes it ok.

        “Given anecdotal evidence that women serving as surrogates come from families of the lowest income brackets, these paltry figures further suggest that surrogacy agreements exploit vulnerable women. Examining these figures demonstrates clearly how the lack of regulation over surrogacy contracts turns seemingly private transactions into de facto abusive employment practices. ”

        source: http://www.councilforresponsiblegenetics.org/pagedocuments/kaevej0a1m.pdf

        • Daleth

          How does $30k-$50k for a nine-month pregnancy translate into your “50 cents to $3/day”? $30,000 in 9 months is $111 a day. $50,000 is $185 a day.

          And even so, comparing the pay to other jobs gives you a false picture because unlike every other job on earth, for women whom an ethical agency would qualify as surrogates–that is, healthy women with a history of easy pregnancies–being a surrogate doesn’t prevent them from doing anything else. They can be a surrogate, earning those sums, while also working at another job, being a stay-at-home mom, being an artist, etc.

          That is, being a surrogate provides support for them to do what they want or need to do, rather than requiring them–as any other job would–to do it *instead* of whatever else you may want or need to do.

          Once again, for the record, I’m talking about surrogacy done ethically in the first world, not about India or wherever.

          • poopypants

            being a surrogate does prevent you from doing other things. like being pregnant with your own kid.

            also, considering that in order to be a surrogate you have to be pregnant 24 hours a day, without weekends, sick days or holidays the pay is miserable.
            A surrogate paid $30,000 is working for an hourly wage of about $4.50/hr with no overtime pay. less than half of minimum wage.

          • “A surrogate paid $30,000 is working for an hourly wage of about $4.50/hr with no overtime pay. less than half of minimum wage.”

            There you have it: market value for the full-time use of a female human being.

          • Mostly.Generic

            As per my comment above and Daleth’s comment below, this math is arguably erroneous.

            It is less misleading to use weekly pay, for 30,000$/9months ~715$/week. Which is equivalent to ~17.85$/hour of 40-hour/week full time work.

            Now, which is more demanding… working full-time or being pregnant? I understand that pregnancy is physically demanding, but given that a good percentage of women work full-time well into the last weeks of their pregnancy, it seems that until those last weeks, pregnancy is arguably less demanding than full-time work.

          • Mostly.Generic

            Your math is erroneous when you count sleeping time as “work being pregnant”. It simply doesn’t translate to an equivalency with minimum wage, where work requirements make it so that working 24 hours per day, for 9 months, is arguably a death sentence for most people.

            It works better and is much less misleading if you count it on a weekly basis. 30,000$ for 42 weeks is 715$/week. Equivalent to approx 17.85$/hour of full-time work. Fairly good if you ask me. Now, which is more demanding? That’s not for me to say, I’ve never been pregnant… but given that most people with healthy low-risk pregnancies work full-time while pregnant until a few weeks before birth… I think it speaks for itself.

            While being a surrogate mom is physically demanding and does prevent you from some things (i.e. being pregnant with your own child), few people are so booked with personal pregnancies of their own to make this much of a big issue. Minimum-wage jobs or studying full-time are arguably more demanding in time/attention than being pregnant.

          • “It works better and is much less misleading if you count it on a weekly basis. 30,000$ for 42 weeks is 715$/week. Equivalent to approx 17.85$/hour of full-time work.”

            Only that doesn’t work. Does the surrogate get to take a break from the pregnancy to sleep at night ? It still affects her ability to rest during her sleep, she leave the kid and go back to her normal body so she can be comfortable while she sleeps. It’s more like being paid to wear a sandbag 24 hours a day and you can’t take it off at night. It’s not just that but the hormonal changes and stress on your body could affect your ability to get a good sleep, could mean you wake up in the night. Also remember that often repeated adage that you lose a tooth for each child because of the calcium that is drained from the bones of the mother. So if they want to pay market value perhaps they should include compensation for that as well. How much do people spend doing root canals and crowns on a tooth to save it these days ? $1000 or more ? That should be added in as well if you want to talk about market value.

          • nucr

            I got the “50 cents to $3 per day” figure from the Council for Ethical Genetics. So it isn’t exactly “my” figure. It is a real figure that smart people who know things came up with… I linked to the document in my previous comment if you would like to look into it.

          • Daleth

            You can get your “50 cents to $3/day” figure from whatever source you want–it remains obviously wrong, because MATH. Do the math and you will instantly disprove it.

          • fdsha

            it takes more than 1+1=? to think deeply and in a nuanced way about important issues. How like a man.

          • Mostly.Generic

            From your document: “Reports indicate that surrogates are paid between $12,000 and $25,000 per pregnancy,”

            The lowest figure, 12,000$ simply doesn’t translate into the misleadingly low 50cents per day. Unless they figured it was a 142 weeks pregnancy? Which sounds problematic :S.

            Even so, a much less misleading figure would be per week remuneration. It gives a more readily understood equivalency with other forms of remuneration. As such, given 12,000$ for 42 weeks, you get 285.71$/week. Not very good, but still more than 40-hour full-time on minimum-wage in many states of the US.

            While being a surrogate mom is physically demanding. Minimum-wage jobs or studying full-time are arguably more demanding in time/attention/marketable skills than being pregnant.

            The things “smart people” come up with aren’t always smart and should always be scrutinized. Invoking authority is actually a well defined sophism.

            Also, this is strictly anecdotal evidence, so the quality of the sample is poor.

          • fdsha

            here’s the thing you’re not getting– not everything can be boiled down to mathematically comparable units of “effort” or “demandingness.”

            Using one’s body to create and nurture a developing human life has physical implications, yes, but it also has moral, spiritual, personal, and social implications that minimum-wage jobs or studying full time don’t have. That’s the entire point.

          • Daleth

            Fdsha, I completely agree: bringing another life into being through your body is a deep spiritual, personal and moral experience.

            No wonder many women would rather get paid $30k to do that (the going rate in the US is $30k-$50k), instead of waitressing or working at Walmart.

          • fdsha

            I said it had moral, spiritual, and physical implications. That’s not the same thing as what you wrote, which implies that it is wholly positive and necessarilly fulfilling or good for a woman’s well-being.

          • nucr

            If you have morning sickness for months on end, that won’t stop you from doing other things? If you are put on bed rest for weeks or months on end it won’t stop you from doing other things?

            After you give birth, if you had a cesarean section, having had major surgery won’t stop you from doing other things?

            Come on now, be reasonable.

          • Daleth

            Nucr, at least in the US, surrogacy agencies will not let women become surrogates unless they have a history of easy pregnancies and easy births. The likelihood of “morning sickness for months on end” and bed rest are very low if your body hasn’t reacted to pregnancy that way before.

          • Perser

            See how little you know, Daleth? First off, morning sickness is normal, and is not indicative of an unhealthy pregnancy. Second, every pregnancy is different. A woman may have had pregnancies free of “major” complications, and still develop complications in her next pregnancies, especially considering the fact that the risk of pregnancy complications increase as a woman ages. Your assertion that a woman can work or study while pregnant is ridiculous too. Gee, I had pneumonia for two months, and I did absolutely nothing for those two months. I got extensions for final exams, could not work, and could not even prepare my meals or sleep and my parents had to take care of me. It would have been much worse if I had been pregnant instead. Also, your silly argument is comparable to hiring someone part-time and paying her 5 bucks an hour and telling her to stop complaining because she still has time to work the other days of the week, or when she is off, and earn more money. It doesn’t matter whether a woman CAN hold a job or study while she is serving as a slave. The money a woman earns holding a job, or her investment in school, are SEPERATE from what she gets paid for selling her body. If I get 4 bucks an hour for selling my body and 100 for working a job, you don’t get to divide the sum by two and conclude I am indeed being paid at 52 bucks an hour for selling my body and thus this transaction is fair!! On a last note: it doesn’t matter if a woman’s body is purchased 1000000 dollars or 1 dollar. The human body is not a property to be sold. Slavery is slavery.

  • There have been a few stories floating around of the adult children of surrogacy campaigning for an end to it. A lot of them say that they feel that they were purchased as an object and considered as an object and they are upset and heartbroken that they did not get to know their parents (birth mothers) and their parents (birth mothers) were kept out of their life. It appears that when the children find out what happened they are very hurt about it.

    Recently there was also that story in the news about an Australian couple who “ordered twins” but when one twin was found to have down syndrome they pushed the mother to abort and when she did not abort, they took only the healthy twin and left the baby with down syndrome with the birth mother in Thailand who was struggling to raise him and pay for heart treatment for him.

    Surrogacy is regularly portrayed as being about these poor infertile people who are desperate to have children. If these people are so desperate to have children however, and desperate to have and love children with their own genetics why would a child with down syndrome be a problem ? You would think that parents desperate to have a child of their own would be happy to have any child of their own. That case highlighted the level of selfishness and entitlement. That couple felt entitled to have children made to their order. People feel entitled to not just a child but a child with their own genetics and they also feel entitled to not have the birth mother in their lives. As you can see in the case of the Australian couple entitlement breeds more entitlement.

    The Australian down syndrome baby case also brings up the question of what if a surrogate wants to abort or doesn’t want to abort when she is told to? What would be done with the baby if neither the birth mother or genetic parents want to raise it ? This has always been understood as a personal decision women must have the right to make with our own bodies and our own feelings but with surrogacy where a woman might be faced with financial punishment for breaking a legal agreement she signed and not aborting, this takes away decision making rights from women again.

    • corvid

      I happened upon the book “Women as Wombs” by Janice Raymond in a secondhand store. It’s over twenty years old now, but it’s an amazingly sharp and well-researched look at the issue of surrogacy. She does write about the complexities of the adoption industry as well and there’s much more to it than meets the eye.

      • I have not read Raymond’s book or any social analysis on adoption, but I have heard people point out the issue of extreme social inequity that usually plays a role in adoption, especially North Americans adopting babies from “Third World” countries. Like you say, there’s often a whole lot more going on there than simple altruism or two needs met in happy agreement.

        • corvid

          That’s precisely it, lizor!

      • I haven’t read that. I actually read Kajsa Ekis Ekman’s book Being & Being Bought where she compares prostitution and surrogacy and thought it was a great book so my views have been largely informed by that. Does Raymond present an alternate perspective of surrogacy than what has been expressed here ?

        • corvid

          Raymond’s views are similar to Ekman’s.

  • The Real Cie

    I’ve always thought surrogacy was a very iffy thing. There are too many chances for things to go wrong, i.e. for the surrogate to become attached to the baby she’s carrying. There are a lot of adoptable children in need of homes. People as a whole are a little too concerned with carrying on their own genes in an overpopulated world.

    • Daleth

      How many adoptable children in need of homes are there, The Real Cie?

      Are there enough for every infertile couple in the US (over 7 million couples) to have as many children as they want, and for every fertile couple or gay couple that wants to adopt to also do so?

      Even in the foster care system, there are only about 100,000 children available for adoption. It is not the job of the foster care system to provide children for those who want to adopt; their primary job is to care for children while the children’s families are getting back on track, so that the kids can go back to their parents or at least be adopted by a relative (that is a directive of the foster care system–intra-family adoption is preferred over adopting the child out to an unrelated family).

      And is it really the job of impoverished third-world women to give up their babies so that people can adopt? Why do you find that preferable to surrogacy?

  • nucr

    If you cannot have children with your own body, that doesn’t give you the right to demand access to women’s bodies. Period. And that is the basic thought process of surrogacy: If I can’t have children on my own, I demand/have a right to access to women’s bodies and reproductive capacity. Ugh.

    If you are, e.g., a gay male couple and you think that you have a “right” to have children, you are basically saying that you believe you have a right to use women’s bodies. And that’s just a blatantly miosgynistic idea.

    We’ve got to draw the line somewhere as a society… obviously we don’t think that infertile people have a right to their neighbors’ children just because they can’t have their own. But we need to draw that line BEFORE we get to women’s bodies, not after! In other words, we need to protect women and their right to bodily autonomy– to NEVER having their bodies reduced to a resource for others to mine– just as we protect the rights of biological parents to their children.

    I’ve always felt that trans-national adoption needed to be opposed, if not all adoption. I can think of cases where adoption is necessary, since kids are orphaned whether or not there is a “demand” for orphaned children (parents die, for example)… in those cases I can see why (preferably local or as local as possible) adoption might be necessary. But I don’t think that surrogacy can be defended as necessary or in the best interests of ANYONE (other than the purchasers) at all, in any case. It is never done for the sake of the best interest of the woman whose body is being used. It is never done for the sake of the best interest of the child who was concieved “on order.”

    • C.K. Egbert

      I wouldn’t say all adoption. Not all children that should be adopted are orphans–a much higher percentage of them suffer physical, sexual and emotional abuse or neglect. In that case ensuring the child is in a safe and supportive environment is a non-negotionable imperative, and I think adoption should be acceptable in that case.

      That wouldn’t necessarily be a response to increased demand, since most couples that create demand for adoptions want (white) infants, whereas most children that need to be removed are likely to be older.

      • nucr

        Ok, agreed that children sometimes need to be cared for outside of their family if their parents/family is abusive, neglectful, etc. However, I think that to assume that adoption as we currently concieve of it is the solution to abused or neglected children is to assume way too much. In fact, I think that adoption tends to treat children like ‘objects’, because it sees children as individuals / ‘widgets’ who can be taken out of one context (family-location-community) and plugged in elsewhere. And it is just assumed that this is ok, and in the best interst of the child, as long as their family of origin was fucked up enough.

        It also treats parents’ problems as largely individual failings rather than, perhaps, things that we should put societal money and effort towards remedying so that the family can stay together. Abuse is one thing, but it isn’t by far the only reason kids are presumed to “need” to be taken away. It can be drug abuse, poverty, neglect and many other factors that are totally influenced by that parent having no support in society or in their community. It’s not a personal failing which necessitates that parent being tossed aside; it is a community failure that happened to be located at the breaking point of that family. Those families are of course often poc and poor, and the parent of import is generally the mother.

        I’m not saying children should not be removed from unsafe situations. I am saying that the idea that the family, community, and location that they grew up in– even if it WAS unsafe– is just to be thrown away is wrong. it is not good for children. and it is not a good solution. If adoption was different, and didn’t treat children and families this way, maybe I would feel differently about it.

        • “It also treats parents’ problems as largely individual failings rather than, perhaps, things that we should put societal money and effort towards remedying so that the family can stay together. Abuse is one thing, but it isn’t by far the only reason kids are presumed to “need” to be taken away. It can be drug abuse, poverty, neglect and many other factors that are totally influenced by that parent having no support in society or in their community. It’s not a personal failing which necessitates that parent being tossed aside; it is a community failure that happened to be located at the breaking point of that family. Those families are of course often poc and poor, and the parent of import is generally the mother.”

          Those are some good points on adoption that I hadn’t thought of before reading this. Raising a child in a situation where you are struggling to put food on the table and struggling to not lose your job and with your own physical health or mental health or an abusive partner is a very different situation from not having those stresses and a parent that would not be abusive without those stresses could become abusive if placed under that level of stress. (I wonder though whether that sounds like I am excusing abusive parents.) Also parents with more educational privilege (middle class parents) are likely to be informed of better parenting techniques and research. They know that spanking children does not work well on behavioural problems and so are less likely to spank and less likely to indadvertedly create problems.

          Yes there are larger social issues and forces at play too unfortunately. If you have a situation where some people have a vested interest in keeping racial and class inequality in play, they would not really want to ameliorate the stressors from racial minority and lower class parents to allow their children to flourish and compete with white and middle class children. Keeping abusive situations in place could also be used to legitimize racial and class inequality because certain communities can then be subtly be blamed for their own misery by the argument, “Look at what they choose to do to their children, we had to remove all these children because the parents are abusing them.” It’s almost similar to how the residential school system in Canada and the idea that “Native parents don’t know how to raise their kids”) was used to legitimize (not only abuse of children in the schools) but also as a smokescreen for all that had been stolen from the native people and the oppression they were under.

    • Pam

      “I’ve always felt that trans-national adoption needed to be opposed, if not all adoption”

      WTF, I’m so glad you can think of some cases where it’s okay.

      Both my children are adopted. My son is Kazakh, he was relinquished at birth, and spent his first 6 years in an orphanage; we adopted him as a 6y/o. My daughter was removed from her biological father at the age of 7 due to abuse; she was in our local foster care system until we adopted her at the age of 10.

      Stick to the topic of surrogates; you have no business denying any child who would otherwise not have one, a home and a family.

      • mariah m

        I agree with the views on surrogacy now that I’ve been given a new way to think about the whole thing, and yes, it sounds pretty ridiculous. I have to agree with Pam, though, you cannot deny a child a home and a family. “Family” doesn’t come from blood and growing up without that structure would never be better for a child. As for this statement: “..sees children as individuals / ‘widgets’ who can be taken out of one context (family-location-community) and plugged in elsewhere. And it is just assumed that this is ok, and in the best interst of the child, as long as their family of origin was fucked up enough.” Actually, children/humans are extremely adaptable and given an ideal environment they will be perfectly fine even if they are uprooted from everything they know. Better yet, that uprooting is more likely to serve as a life lesson for anyone; especially if moving from bad to good. It’s never a bad idea to be in a new environment, given it’s a healthy one. You could never be too cultured or have too many experiences. Good for you Pam.

        • nucr

          People are adaptable, but that doesn’t mean that “anything goes.” On what authority or evidence are you basing your opinion that people will be “perfectly fine if they are uprooted from everything they know”?

          It is true that people are adaptable, but context matters. Existing bonds with parents, family, and culture are not going to just disappear because that is convenient for the rich white folk who adopt. Many, many children who are adopted are old enough to have formed extremely strong bonds with their families, their communities, and their cultures. First-world white people tend to assume that money and the Western nuclear family is the end-all-be-all, and that if they can provide that, everything will be “perfectly fine” in the end. Sadly, that isn’t always the case. Nevermind the issues of being a POC raised by white people (in many cases), which are huge, you have the issues related to the struggles of adoptive parents to bury that past that is the origin and location of deep bonds for the adoptee.

          The only options aren’t a child “having no home” and a child being shipped to America so that white people can purchase the child they always wanted. Other options include putting resources into supporting families who are breaking down, in crisis, living in poverty, or experiencing any other troubles.

          By the way, I didn’t even say in the section you quoted about children as “widgets” that NOT treating children like widgets would look like keeping them with their families and having no intervention. There is a way to intervene and protect children without throwing their families away like garbage.

      • nucr

        Pam, I’m not sure how to respond because you did not address any of the substantive points I made in my previous comments. You merely said that you have a child adopted through trans-national adoption. So, is that your argument in its entirety?

        It’s absurd of you to suggest that my having a critical view of trans-national adoption is “denying” anyone a “home and a family.” Really? Come on now.

        I’m sorry, but this discussion is not about you and your child. It is about how society and communities around the globe want to spend their resources and how they want to solve the problem of homeless / parentless children. I’m not suggesting that any child be left to rot in an orphanage, nor that they be ripped from the hands of families who have already adopted them (is that what you were suggesting by bringing your son into this?). What I am saying is that, if we put the well-being and interests of children first, ahead of the adoptive parents, then we have to ask ourselves whether separating children from their regions, communities, and cultures (in the case of trans-national adoption) is good for them. I argued that it isn’t.

        …and then you didn’t argue back, you just ignored all of my points.

    • Daleth

      Is anybody saying that infertile couples, gay male couples or single parents by choice “have the right” to women’s bodies?


      They’re saying they have the right to have children this way IF there are women WILLING to help them.

      Are YOU saying that women don’t have the right to do what they want with their bodies? What they genuinely want to (there are women who act as altruistic, i.e. unpaid, surrogates)? I happen to be in agreement with many here that porn and prostitution are forms of violence against women, so I’m not going to argue that whatever some woman who is drugged up or broken by abuse “wants” to do, including porn or prostitution, is fine.

      But I am going to argue that there are women who find surrogacy a much more meaningful and fulfilling way to earn money than any ordinary job could be. And it’s a pretty significant amount of money in the US.

      I think surrogacy should be well regulated in every state, such that only healthy women with a history of easy pregnancy are allowed to be surrogates (this is already how most agencies operate, but I’d like to see it enshrined in law), and so that there is a registry that would permit children born this way to find the surrogate if they wanted to later.

  • Henke

    The book she has written has some of the most valid takes on this whole business that I ever have come across.
    It is a well documented and researched piece of work in the struggle of women’s liberation from patriarchy.
    I hope it will reach a wide audience now that it is translated into English.

  • Ghost

    In patriarchy, it’s mostly women and children who are harmed and violated. Like women, children are forced into submission by old-fashioned, religious fundamentalist mindset, and either verbally or physically abused if they don’t submit (think of caning, spanking etc). Now they’re sexualised (like women) and bought like objects (like prostituted women or porn actresses). Disgusting!

  • Henke

    Derrick over at Resistance radio made an interview with her not long ago which I find being such a good complement to this amazing interview you did Meghan.


  • Daleth

    Nucr, you said “That unifying concept [which defines all slaves] is the concept of one’s body being bought and sold as property, as an object.”

    True. I totally agree. And what that concept means–what it means to be treated as property, as an object–is that you have little or no say in what happens to you. To be a slave is to be denied agency, choice, and the ability to walk away.

    Now, is an American woman who contacts a surrogacy agency to ask about becoming a surrogate, and who decides to act as a surrogate whether altruistically or in exchange for a large sum of money, denied agency or choice or the ability to walk away? Can she decline to act as a surrogate at all, or decline to do it for one family but agree to do it for another, for reasons of her own choosing? Even after she decides to act as a surrogate, can she freely choose to abort (or refuse to abort) against the will of the family she is serving as surrogate for? (Hint: yes, she can abort or not–the choice is hers.)

    It sounds like the answer to those questions must be where you and I differ.

    And the reason I specified an *American* woman (by which I mean an American or legal immigrant woman living in America) is because I have no doubt that there are surrogacy situations in, say, India or Ukraine that actually are close to slavery.

    • nucr

      I think you are right; that is where we differ.

      However, I also want to say that I’m not invested in needing to call surrogacy “slavery.” I’m not invested in it because I believe that colloquially we use “slave” slightly more specifically and because I don’t feel that anything short of slavery is “a-ok.” Surrogacy is not a-ok, but that doesn’t mean it has to be slavery to be that way. So if that term is bothering you, we don’t have to use it, as far as I am concerned.

      You asked, “is an American woman who contacts a surrogacy agency to ask about becoming a surrogate, and who decides to act as a surrogate whether altruistically or in exchange for a large sum of money, denied agency or choice or the ability to walk away?” The problem is that you are looking at this American woman in a context-less way. She may walk into an agency looking for this work, but she isn’t doing that in a “free” way, she is doing it because of the full force of the combined pressures of globalized capitalism, patriarchy, and possibly (if she is a poc) racism, which have colluded to put her in a tight spot. Her tight spot is the tight spot of most in capitalism (would I like to not die in the street? Then I must work, somehow)… in other words, a situtation in which one is coerced.

      But her situation is compounded by the patriarchal conditions she lives in. She is targeted for further objectification by capitalism because she is a woman, and in this culture women’s reproductive capacities (i.e. their bodies) are seen as merely a resource that all should have access to. Like water, or clean air. Except that it is our bodies. Infertile? No problem, apparently we see you as entitled to other people’s fertility (their bodies, that is, women’s bodies). Gay? No problem, our society will provide the resources you need… err.. a special class of women who can be coerced by their poverty and lack of options into reproducing for you.

      That you can coerce someone–even if “you” is impersonal, ie. the adoptive parents aren’t looking to do it, but it is done for them by structural forces– doesn’t make it ok to do so. Thus, a woman “choosing” to do something (prostitute herself, or be a surrogate, or be beaten up by her lover, or whatever) doesn’t make it ok.

      Think about human organs. They are ours, inside of our bodies; some of us give them “freely” if we are desperate enough for money; generally only the poorest give them, for a relative pittance, and to the rich. It isn’t that no one would ever “willingly” “choose” to give their organs up for cash, obviously some will. but we as a society, and many societies around the world, have all recognized that it’s not ok, even if someone “consents” to it. Because it is coerced, and because people’s bodies should fundamentally not be seen as mere property or resources to mine.

      Just as there is nothing inherently debasing about farm work, there is nothing inherently debasing about pregnancy and birth; however, what made American slavery abhorrent was that it was an institution that linked together and froze in place
      (1) racism, which makes it all possible and
      (2)the body of the slave as an object, property, a mere resource.

      Surrogacy does the same in that it is an institution that links together (1) the female body as an object, and an abstract resource, like a reservoir of clean water; and as property, because her organs are bought and sold (a fetus is a part of a woman’s body, i.e. an organ, until it is “born”– the cutoff of when it stops being part of a woman’s body is obviously still a live question, and a culture-dependent one)
      (2) the bodies of children as objects, and property to be bought and sold (3) captialist white supremacist globalized patriarchy, which makes it all possible.

      ultimately, in my mind the link between the two specific possible slaveries you invoked (American slavery, and surrogacy) is about the fact that they exist to reserve for an elite class’ use a sub-class of people (be it women, or black people) as a resource. Just as we would carve out a fresh water reservoir to serve an entire city, I picture surrogacy ultimately as a way to “pool” as a resource women’s bodies for the elite who feel that they “need” them. Except no one “needs” children to live like they do water.

    • ErnestinaChe

      But he wave to look at the contex in which said person chose to be a surrogate, much like prostitution, would she chose to be a surrogate , in a better financial position? what agency is there really when that’s one of the only options … We all know that women are over represented in poverty America

  • stephen m

    Surrogacy: a global trade in women’s bodies
    Sweden’s leading feminist lobby regards surrogate motherhood as a revival of serfdom for women.


    • Daleth

      Since when did serfs get paid $50k to do something that they were free to choose to do or not, and that only lasted 9 months? Last I checked, serfdom was a lifelong state of involuntary servitude.

      • stephen m

        @Daleth – I suggest you you reread all the http://www.mercatornet.com/articles/view/surrogacy_a_global_trade_in_womens_bodies article again. Your comment seems inappropriate for the article.

      • Jules

        Daleth. Judging by your comments, you are suggesting that if relatively large amounts of money are paid for women to act as surrogates, this in itself alleviates the need for ethical concern because, presumably, no exploitation has occurred.
        And, since you seem keen to play semantics, a quick look in a dictionary defines serfdom as “a person in bondage or servitude”, which seems to be a pretty apt description to me.

        You use the argument that women who offer themselves as a surrogate are doing “something that they were free to choose to do or not”, but you fail to mention that for very poor women struggling to survive, their ‘freedoms’ are far more limited than wealthier women. The word ‘choice’ is most relevant here. What choices to the poorest women among us have to keep a roof over their heads, pay utility bills and feed and clothe themselves and their children when they find themselves out of work, or having to leave an abusive partner. Without the necessary social support services to provide lower income women with the basics for a dignified existence, women will unfortunately continue to have scant options to support themselves and will turn to options that exploit them.

  • stephen m

    This might be interesting to some readers.

    Jstore access neccesssary

    Special Issue on Transnational Reproductive Travel Latest Issue
    Published by: University of Toronto Press
    Vol. 7, No. 2, Fall 2014
    International Journal of Feminist Approaches to Bioethics

    1. The issue
    Transnational reproductive travel (sometimes packaged with holiday time
    in tourist destinations) is a largely unfettered multibillion-dollar global industry
    that flourishes, in part, by capitalizing on differences in legal regimes, wages and
    standards of living, and cultural and ethical norms. Indeed, as Scott Carney ex-
    plains with respect to the commercialization of human eggs for third-party
    reproduction, “internationalization has made oversight laughable . . . . [R]egula-
    tors are dogs with no teeth” (Carney 2011, 117). While professional organiza-
    tions can introduce guidelines and nation-states can introduce laws, the fact is
    that patients can (and do) travel to places where there are no (or very few) re-
    strictions on what reproductive goods (i.e., gametes) and services (i.e., gesta-
    tional services) can be purchased. Not all transnational reproductive travel,
    however, is to avoid legal or other prohibitions. Other reasons for such travel
    are to reduce costs, to access better-quality care, to access medical resources oth-
    erwise not available in one’s home country, to reduce wait times, or to avoid
    legal or professional prohibitions on access by particular demographic or social
    groups (Crozier and Baylis 2010).
    In recent years, transnational reproductive travel has come to involve the
    cross-border movement of gametes or embryos, as well as persons. Consider, for
    example, complex reproductive projects involving the cross-border movement
    of reproductive materials, reproductive laborers (i.e., women who provide eggs
    for third-party reproduction and women who provide gestational services), and
    intended parents. One such scenario might involve the shipment of gametes or
    embryos to a foreign clinic in a country where a gestational carrier resides, to
    which the intended parent(s) will later travel in order to pick up the child(ren).
    While this is not yet a common occurrence, it is not an unfamiliar narrative,
    especially among those who are unable to adopt or arrange a contract pregnancy
    in their home countries. Consider, for example, the well-publicized case of Yo-
    nathan Gher and his partner, Omer. This gay Israeli couple contracted with an
    Indian woman to bear and birth a child for them, using the egg of another
    Indian woman whom they selected from an online database (Gentleman 2008).

  • hoka

    and, as an interesting comparison, peopel may be interested in this article on how Big Pharma is exploiting the desperation of homeless people in order to use them as guinea pigs for drugs.
    It has parallels to the surrogacy thing in that it looks from the outside like a ‘free’ choice and the people are paid (albeit minimally), but the more you look into it the more wrong it seems. It isn’t ok to use economic coersion to make people sacrifice and sell their bodies. Period. This must be a baseline ethic of feminism.


  • Tracy Allard

    And it’s not even only surrogacy per se at play here, the whole industry of buying ovules and sperms is just as dirty. The inventor of sperm donation is well discussed in the 2009 documentary Bio-Dad (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1769282). I can’t recommend it enough.
    Then there is reproductive treatments for partially infertile females, where we are producing multiple embryos. There is no end to this insanity. It’s as if the human race was on the verge of extinction the effort society puts into this shit.

    • wheel

      it is an interesting question– why are people so invested in reproductive technology and why are we as a culture so obsessed with making babies? Especially considering the global context, whch is (obviously) that we are overpopulated for what this planet can reasonably support.

      I think the answers have to do with:

      -individualism and capitalism (babies are a “personal life choice,” not seen a decision involving the community or globe as a whole; and there is a huge baby-related industry making corporations rich)


      -nationalism (the desire to reproduce your own culture and race because you belive you are superior to other cultures/races).

      Of course there’s also the sex-oppression angle as well, which is that it benefits men to have women as a reproductive resource. Technologies only further liberate what men want (reproductive resource extraction) from the ‘natural’ limits on its extraction. Those natural limits are imposed by women’s bodies, women’s health, and women’s agency… unless you invent a technology that works around those factors, and allows you now to extract reproduction from bodies that formerly you couldn’t, women who couldn’t concieve without drugs or IVF, for example.

      • Meghan Murphy

        Excellent points. I know this is probably an unpopular thing to say, but despite the fact that many women who choose NOT to reproduce are labelled ‘selfish,’ I think actually, for many people, having children is, in fact, pretty selfish… It’s not like they are doing it for the greater good… They are, often, choosing to reproduce because they think it will fulfill them in some way, as individuals, or, as you say, to ensure the longevity of their gene pool (so, like, it’s the closest we can get to immortality — which, of course, is ‘selfish’).

        • wheel

          I agree.

          Of course “selfishness” isn’t necessarily a bad thing… there are contexts where it is reasonably ok (like choosing ice cream flavors or what to do for a living). Still, if we want to be honest about it, the fact is that almost all (if not all) reasons for reproducing ARE selfish. That’s just a fact.

          • Meghan Murphy

            Totally. I mean, I think all humans are selfish to a certain extent. We are concerned with our own survival and well-being… Which is fine. But, yes, it is totally ridiculous to pretend as though many people who choose to reproduce aren’t doing it entirely for selfish reasons.