Wombs for rent in India
The post and the reader comments are all worth reading to see the variety of angles that people take on this issue. I am haunted by the AP Photo of anonymous surrogate mothers in Anand India dressed in surgical scrubs, complete with masks. They might as well be wearing burqas. (I can't reprint the photo here; be sure to follow the link to see it.) The women are wearing blue or pink scrubs, which I assumed corresponds to the gender of the baby they are carrying. How would you like to have your identity covered over with a label representing the fetus you were carrying?
I think it's ultimately harmful to all women any time women are objectified solely as baby-making machines. These are people, adult women with lives, thoughts, personalities, human and reproductive rights. Some will argue that this includes the right to rent out their wombs, much as some people would argue in favor of sex work or selling body organs. I can't support the concept of commercialized surrogacy in any way, shape or form.
Think about the larger social implications. Women are poor--hey, they can rent out their wombs, right? Indian families can't afford to take care of their children--no problem, just gestate an extra baby for a white American couple. Is this what colonialism looks like in the 21st century? What about Indian women who can't have children? What about the effect on the women's families while they are "away" gestating? What does it mean about the way we view women's bodies as a commodity? What does this say about the value of Indian children?
Would we assume that women like us could carry a baby for nine months and give it up with no emotional attachment? What does it mean to be a mother? Is it all in the "seed," the genetic material in the egg and sperm? What about the contribution of the mother who nourished those two cells to grow into a human being?
Last September I heard Dr. Barbara Katz Rothman, a sociologist and adoptive mother, give a provocative keynote address at the Symposium on Breastfeeding and Feminism at UNC. Taking a look back at my notes, she argued that the language of "seed" is the language of patriarchy, the language of control, the language of getting the women to do the right thing. In this framework, the baby belongs to the man, to the state. The woman has nothing to add. Nurturing becomes about minimizing the damage you do, because you can't improve the original essence.
Economically-driven surrogacy seems to invoke all these dynamics, perhaps allowing the paying women clients to assume the man's role in this "seed driven" world, but that is a hollow victory in a process that ultimately exploits human relationships.
I didn't become a feminist so that some day I could exploit other women as well as a man can. Did you?