Julie Bindel speaking with Eva Marie Bachinger at Paris Feminist Conference
In Russia more than 900 surrogacy programs were documented in 2012, but only 300 children were born. Two-thirds of the programs did not lead to a child. The agency Surmama alone reports about 76 children born in 2012 so we can assume the total number is much higher since in Russia there are at least 140 clinics officially. In Russia there are so called ‘all inclusive’ packages or ‘flat rate’ programs that cost couples $60,000. When I asked the surrogate mothers or the doctors or lawyers how much of it gets to the surrogate mothers, I get completely different answers or no answer at all. The women who are not successful get no money at all because couples can try as many times as they want to and change owners and change surrogate mothers.
Surrogate mothers in Russia told me that they live in an apartment together for nine months but they are not allowed to talk about the details of the experience. I’ve never found a privileged, rich surrogate mother. Maybe there are some who do it for altruistic reasons, but the money is the main reason. If you hear about how surrogacy is an altruistic action, in most cases this is just the propaganda of the couples and the clinics so they do not have to feel guilty. The contracts from the United States I have seen are 22 pages long and every little thing is regulated. A surrogate mother may no longer use hair spray, nail polish and is not allowed to lift heavy things, including children. They have to stop travelling, they cannot have sex with their husband until confirmation of the pregnancy and after that only with a doctor’s permission.
They can have coffee only once a day, no meat, no fish, no insect spray and cannot get tattoos or piercings. They must complete all prenatal tests and report daily to the intended parents. If the child is handicapped, the woman must abort- she has no choice. So if the advocates of surrogacy talk about the great freedom of the mothers, I can only feel cynical. One important finding of my result was that most of the women receive no money for any of their attempts to get pregnant, or even for the pregnancy itself, but only if it leads to a healthy. Therefore, you have the complete right to call it the sale of children, where the child is ordered, delivered and paid for. As we know, the trade of children is not allowed by the convention on children’s rights. So we must raise the question, if we legalize surrogacy, why do we then not legalize the trading of human beings? Obviously human trafficking cannot be prevented everywhere all the time, but no thinking person would want to legalize it. When it comes to children, sadly this principle does not exist any more.
The right to know one’s origin is ignored as well. Since there is no Europe wide or worldwide surrogate list, children rely on the goodwill of the private clinics to ever find out who their biological parents are. It is actually the state that must guarantee access to the data. Moral and ethical standards stand in the way of profit. Therefore, capitalistic systems ignore and destroy those standards. The standards of the international convention on the rights of the child are ignored in favor of the right to have children. Many supporters of surrogacy talk a lot about human rights, but in these situations they tend to forget the rights of the child. In fact, I believe that most supporters do not really understand the meaning of ‘human rights’. Each human right must be carefully balanced against the others. In this issue, the right to have a family is interpreted as an absolute right. It is limited because of the rights of the children. Human rights were established to protect mostly the weak, not the strong, but in this instance it is mostly the children and the surrogate mothers are weaker than the adults.
Nearly every state in the world, except the United States, has accepted the convention. We have to follow international law. So I propose that surrogacy is a breach of the convention. Surrogacy is a breach of the dignity of women. My book has the subtitle ‘For Clear Limits’, and I think that with surrogacy we have already passed those clear limits.