Surrogacy and Motherhood in the United States

Recently, I have been hearing a lot about surrogacy in the news, specifically in regards to custody battles and the meaning of motherhood. I have always thought that surrogacy contracts should be upheld if both parties willingly made an agreement but now that I have learned more about the situation, my opinions are changing and I am not truly sure where I stand on this issue anymore. I strongly believe that being able to reproduce and have a family is a human right that no one should be able to take away from you, particularly the government. For those that are not able to start a family because of physical limitations, it is crucial that they be presented with other options. Unfortunately, surrogacy has become a very complicated issue that stirs up great controversy and challenges the meaning of motherhood.  Do these agreements violate women’s right?  Or is it a human rights violation if the intended parents lose the child when the birth mother changes their mind?

As Miriam Perez states in an article on RH Reality Check, “Surrogacy’ is a term used broadly to describe situations in which a woman is enlisted to carry a child for someone else, with the intent of giving custody over to the intended parent(s) at the end of the pregnancy.” The laws in the United States vary from state to state. Surrogacy is “legal” in forty-three states but each state has its own laws, which regulate the process and make it much more complicated to successfully have a surrogacy agreement. These laws relate to whether the mother can change her mind, whether the contract can be voided, surrogate parent screening, and monetary compensation.  This map references voids, penalties, and bans regarding surrogacy in the United States.  For more state-by-state information (as of 2007), click here.

Surrogacy is beneficial for both the birth mother and the surrogate parents. In states where mothers are allowed to receive financial compensation for pregnancy and giving birth, this is an added source of income for the woman and her family. The birth mother can receive anywhere upwards of ten thousand dollars. Although this is a large sum of money, it is not comparable to the amount of emotional and physical labor the woman will have to endure doing those nine months. Also, this is problematic because surrogacy mothers are disproportionately low income or women of color, which indicates that surrogacy is a last resort source of income. This has brought up many concerns regarding economic and racial justice. Because of underlying problems in the workforce, women are forced into careers that they would not choose to seek out on their own. (Another similar situation is that of sex work). For more information on surrogacy agreements and compensation, click here.

On the other hand, surrogacy is a much better arrangement for the family that will be adopting the child. People may choose to use a surrogate mother for multiple reasons. If a couple is unable to conceive because of fertility problems and do not want to adopt, they may seek a surrogate mother. This is also an option for gay parents who are not able to conceive.

In her article, Perez references a surrogacy case from 2005. Because her brother was in a homosexual relationship, he and his partner were not able to conceive a baby naturally. They turned to Angelia, his sister, who agreed to be their surrogate mother. They signed a contract and continued on with the next steps. After giving birth, Angelia changed her mind about the agreement and sued for custody of the twin girls. Angelia was not receiving any financial compensation, which she tried to use as justification in court. In this situation, the judge ruled in favor of Angelia, citing precedence in a case from over twenty years ago. On one hand, some argue, “There are, in a civilized society, some things that money cannot buy.” On the other hand, it is important to consider the intent of both parties upon entering into this contractual relationship.

There is even great debate about surrogacy within the feminist community. Some strongly believe that is a form of exploitation that uses women’s bodies to the advantage of others. This side also argues that the disproportionate effects on low income and women of color are creating greater marginalization within society. Some have gone so far to refer to this as trafficking. Others argue that there are only few positions which women alone are able to hold, therefore they should take advantage of this situation.  This cover of Newsweek magazine references the complexity of surrogacy:

I feel that there is so much controversy is because there is no clear-cut definition of motherhood. Can we define motherhood simply by those who give birth to the child? Or is motherhood about the most-capable, best-intentioned party? The definition of motherhood is complex and varies from culture to culture. There are many advantages to surrogacy, but unfortunately there are many disadvantages. As with anything, when a system or practice is abused, problems are going to arise.

Word Count: 840

1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. mohammed Adawulai
    Mar 01, 2010 @ 15:54:50

    “this is informative and straightforward.i didnt know that surrogacy is so common here in the US. and to answer your question pertaining motherhood, i certainly think that motherhood extends beyond the act of giving birth. it is far less harder to produce something done to preserve or maintain birth is indisputably the most crucial aspect of motherhood because that is where the natural mother-child connection takes it roots, but it is one step into the journey of hundreds of miles.bringing up the child in a way that he or she would become useful to himself and society is very challenging. but it is unfortunate that some people cannot give birth but far more incomprehensible, that those who come to their aid do so because of money. nonetheless, it is not what’s been paid that matters, it rather the baby that really matters the most and everything must be done for the sake of the baby. and i agree with you that problems will arise when the system is abused.


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