Russell and Duenes

What Does Pregnancy Mean?

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During pregnancy, women experience dramatic physical changes and a wide range of health consequences. Labor and delivery pose additional health risks and physical demands.” U.S. Supreme Court, Planned Parenthood v. Casey

“The [Uniform Parentage Act] begins with faulty nomenclature. It identifies the gestational surrogate as the ‘gestational mother.’ The use of the term ‘gestational mother’ throughout [Article 8 of this Act] is inappropriate, as it fosters the false presumption that the gestational carrier is actually the child’s mother. She is not. . . .[I]n surrogacy, the body is merely the vessel through which the services are rendered.” Paul G. Arshagouni, Be Fruitful and Multiply, By Other Means, If Necessary, 61 DePaul L. Rev. 709 (2012).

Surrogacy is an interesting study. I was anticipating doing a research project on the topic this semester, so I did a fair amount of reading on it over the Christmas holiday. Also, my good friend, Jennifer Lahl, has been neck deep in the surrogacy policy arena for some time now, and she was just here in Kansas this week to testify before our state legislature on the subject. The reason I think surrogacy is interesting is that it hits pro-life Catholics, Protestants, and feminists in unique ways, setting surrogacy apart from the more traditional pro-life issue of abortion. As Jennifer remarked to me, aside from the pro-life Catholics, people aren’t sure which “tribe” they want to join up with yet, whereas with abortion, people are pretty well entrenched in their respective camps.

Not only that, but there are various types of surrogacy. In traditional surrogacy, the woman supplies her own egg and is simply inseminated by the man who wants the child. What is becoming more common, and what seems more problematic, is what’s referred to as “gestational surrogacy,” wherein the woman who will carry the child and give birth to the child has no genetic relationship to the child. The egg and sperm are provided by third parties, through the invitro fertilization process (IVF), and implanted in the surrogate’s womb.

But is this problematic? A ton of people don’t think so, many others aren’t sure, and it seems to be only a very few who think surrogacy should be outlawed entirely. We can easily understand people at the two opposite poles. Homosexuals and singles who want children are understandably in favor of surrogacy, particularly gestational surrogacy, as it allows them to have children without an unwanted sex act. Conversely, orthodox Catholics oppose surrogacy in all forms, for surrogacy is violative of the procreative, conjugal sex act which is the only faithful way of producing children, in their view.

Protestants, or the plain old non-religious, don’t generally have the Catholic qualms about contraceptives, and thus, may be more or less ambivalent about surrogacy. One of my friends exemplifies this ambivalence a bit, as he wonders what surrogacy has to do with abortion. And that’s probably a continuing question for lots of Christians. After all, abortion is the taking of life, but in surrogacy, the goal seems to be bringing wanted lives into the world. No one is being killed, are they? What could possibly be wrong with people using technology and surrogates to achieve that which would otherwise be so painfully denied them? No one can understand the pain of infertility save the infertile.

Then we have the feminists, for whom surrogacy poses an interesting conundrum. On the one hand, they want women to have the autonomy and authority to “choose” what to do with their own bodies and reproductive systems, even if that includes being a surrogate for someone else. Privacy, choice and equality trump all other values. Yet this means they have to downplay the way that surrogate mothers are treated, namely, as not being mothers at all, but mere “carriers,” or to put it crassly, “breeders.” So we find the schizophrenic feminist position whereby the feminist sponsors an anti-surrogacy film like the Center for Bioethics and Culture’s “Breeders,” while posting flyers at the showing of the film stating that they don’t take a position on surrogacy and don’t support legislation which would ban it.

Yet might surrogacy, particularly gestational surrogacy, be more connected to abortion than one knows? Do all, or even most, of the people engaging in gestational surrogacy through IVF create a single embryo each time they try it? Or do they rather create many embryos and implant more than one of them in the surrogate mother, hoping that some of the embryos will die, and if they don’t, they will be affirmatively aborted (“selectively reduced,” as the euphemism goes)?

And what about the surrogate mothers themselves? The big move now is to avoid categorizing them as mothers at all. The legal literature is fascinating, insisting in many instances that the pregnant surrogate be called a “gestational carrier.” No, we dare not call her a mother, for that would imply that she has some connection and right to the child she bears. But to treat women as mere “carriers” is to denigrate and objectify them. It is to treat their generative capacities as a mere “service” to be ambivalently rendered. Indeed, it’s best if the gestational carrier does what she can to avoid bonding with the child she carries, in anticipation of the child being removed from her at birth. Not only must the surrogate’s femininity be diminished, but the nature and beauty of pregnancy must be blunted and marred as well. Pregnancy is something that encompasses the entirety of a woman’s physical body. There is not one cell of her body that is unaffected by pregnancy. Her emotional and psychological life is also entirely engaged in a pregnancy, for better or for worse. There is a bonding that goes on between child and mother, and rightly so, whether the mother thinks so or not. All of this must be downplayed so that the surrogate can simply render her services and then get on with life.

And what of the children? Surrogacy seems rather adult-centric, catering to the yearnings of adults rather than the best interests of the children. And when money is changing hands, how can we escape at least some complicity with baby-selling? And these days, one fears to question – at least in public – whether creating children to be raised in homosexual households is a good thing. Moreover, when adults need these wombs, by and large, to whom are they going to go? What population of women are going to be called upon to be surrogates, or will it be spread evenly amongst the population?

At the end of the day, however, many people seem to take the position that: “Well, these people are just trying to do something good, namely, bring life into the world and to experience the joys of parenthood. Why not just leave them to it? And surely if a woman does not want to be “dehumanized” by being considered a “rent-a-womb,” well then she can just say ‘no’ to surrogacy, can’t she? What’s the problem? We’ve got bigger fish to fry, like sex trafficking, political oppression, poverty, genocide, economic inequality, abortion, war and the like. Freedom is good; fertility is good. Surrogacy can’t really be a big deal, can it?” And it may not be a “big deal,” relative to other concerns, but does that mean it’s not a “deal” at all? Does that mean we ought not try and ask good questions about it, about the nature and purpose of femininity, motherhood and pregnancy, about the purpose of conceiving and raising children, and about the purpose human sexuality? And if we wonder about what kind of people we are becoming when we go in for surrogacy, might we not at least think about what would make us better people, more the kind of people God intends us to be?

-D

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