Julie Bindel interviews Jennifer Lahl, founder of Stop Surrogacy Now!
Julie Bindel: Can you introduce yourself and tell me about your campaign.
Jennifer Lahl: I’m Jennifer Lahl, I’m the President of the Centre for Bioethics and Culture, we’re based in the San Francisco Bay area, and I’m one of the original founding members of the campaign called Stop Surrogacy Now.
JB: How did Stop Surrogacy Now come about?
JL: Well for me it came about more out of my frustration that the United States was wilfully unregulated, and seeing the carnage of women and children who have been exploited, harmed, hurt, used, whatever adjective you want to attach to it. There was also a lack of an organization or big network in the United States. The Europeans were much more energized and mobilized and networked. We don’t have large feminist groups in the United States, we have more individuals. This is one way of capturing individuals in the United States and giving an umbrella organization. It’s a way of showing the world that this isn’t one or two people, it’s many women, and men, from all around the world.
JB: So this is very much a feminist human rights based organization?
JL: I’d also add children’s rights
JB: Often, those who are pro-surrogacy will accuse those of us actively campaigning against it that we are religious nutcases, or that we are homophobic and are preventing gay couples from accessing their rights to be parents.
JL: I’ve been working on this issue for over a decade, and heterosexuals have driven a large amount of use and abuse of this industry. While I’m very sympathetic to people who do want to have children, this is not the way to do it. I know we are accused of doing that, but it’s not an issue with gay men. I’m opposed to all surrogacy, no matter who does it.
JB: Who are the surrogate mothers? We have the poster girl of the surrogate mother who is the white, blonde, smiling, altruistic surrogate. And then of course we have the horror stories of the desperately poor woman from a very low caste in India. Tell me about the surrogates in the US.
JL: They don’t come from the wealthy or affluent communities. We don’t have destitute poverty like they do in India, but they are low income women, often young moms, sometimes military wives. You can see the targeting and the advertising directly towards this demographic. The egg donor is not usually a university student, it is often a low income stable mom who has ‘proven’ she can carry a pregnancy to term. Low income women are often seen as more desirable because they don’t have the same risk of changing their mind and wanting to keep the baby. They are seen as more ‘stable in the industries’ eyes.
JB: Tell me about the human rights abuses towards the children who are born through surrogacy? Why is this a children’s rights issue?
JL: My background is from many years of pediatric nursing, so I’m a big proponent of the maternal-child bond. We always say ‘maternal-child’ because the mom and the babies go together. There is a lot of wonderful bonding and all those good things that go in, in utero that we encourage in hospitals all the time. But in this regard we just treat children as products. We take it out of a womb, here is a woman’s body that has been preparing for nine months to nurse a baby, and you just rip the baby out of the womb and put it in the hands of strangers. I’ve seen the contracts for surrogates, its disgusting and you think that these are the people that are going to be raising the children. They will say such despicable things about what you can and can’t do with your health or what you can eat. I read one contract recently that said that if the mother suffered a massive trauma and had to be put on life support, the commissioning couple got to decide when and if she was removed from life support. And these are the people that are going to be raising, buying the children? When you see children treated that way, as if it doesn’t matter, all that is necessary is that they are wanted and loved, and that how they came about at all doesn’t matter. It does matter so much.