In a seemingly unlikely alliance, Catholics and secular feminists in New York are opposing a bill that would legalize commercial surrogacy in the state.
The bill passed the state Senate and has the support of Governor Andrew Cuomo, who proposed the measure. But it is stalled in Assembly due to strong opposition, notably from female legislators, the New York Times reported. The state’s legislative session will conclude in just one week.
If passed, the law would allow New Yorkers to pay a woman to carry to term a child conceived through in-vitro fertilization, also known as gestational surrogacy. It would not allow a surrogate mother to use her own eggs, and therefore be related biologically to the child, which is known as traditional surrogacy.
While the bill was presented as “an unequivocal progressive ideal, a remedy to a ban that burdens gay and infertile couples and stigmatizes women who cannot have children on their own,” it has run up against strong opposition from unexpected people, including feminists, female legislators, and other supporters of women’s rights, the New York Times stated.
Assemblywoman Deborah Glick, who is openly gay, is one of the legislators who expressed strong opposition to legalized commercial surrogacy, which she called “pregnancy for a fee.”
“I find that commodification of women troubling,” she told the New York Times.
Dennis Poust, the director of communications for the New York State Catholic Conference, told CNA in email comments that opposition to this bill is a situation in which secular feminists and Catholics agree.
“Like those groups, we stand up against the exploitation and dehumanization of women,” Poust said. “This bill treats women almost like livestock at the service of men.”
Poust said the bill was comparable to one that seeks to legalize prostitution, in that both measures, if passed, would lead to the exploitation of poor women, largely for the benefit of wealthy men.
“The one commodifies babies, the other sex, and always the victims are poor women,” he said.
“In commercial surrogacy, women’s human dignity is surrendered and they are reduced to objects desirable only for their body parts, whether that be the rental of their wombs or the mining of their eggs in risky, invasive medical procedures. The beneficiaries are nearly always wealthy and often male, while the exploited are always poor women,” he added.
Commercial surrogacy in New York has been banned since 1986, and surrogacy laws vary widely in other states. Besides New York, only three other states explicitly ban all surrogacy contracts - Nebraska, Michigan, and Arizona. Many other states have restrictions on surrogacy agreements, and treat the surrogacy process similarly to adoption, requiring court appearances, home studies, and a window for the birth mother to change her mind after the baby is born.
Abroad, the push to end legalized surrogacy has been strong in recent years, with many countries in western Europe banning the practice. India, once the capital of “fertility tourism,” passed a bill banning surrogacy last year, amid increasing concern and outcry over the exploitation of poor women who were being used for paid surrogacy, sometimes multiple times over, and usually by foreigners.
The New York bill also faces opposition from prominent feminist speaker, author, and activist Gloria Steinem, who expressed concern in an open letter about the state legislating a “profit-driven reproductive surrogacy industry.”
"Under this bill, women in economic need become commercialized vessels for rent, and the fetuses they carry become the property of others," Steinem wrote in a letter shared on Twitter by New York 1 reporter Zack Fink.
“The bill ignores the socio-economic and racial inequalities of the reproductive commercial surrogacy industry, and puts disenfranchised women at the financial and emotional mercy of wealthier and more privileged individuals,” she continued.
Steinem noted that surrogate mothers are often college-age women who are victims “of an educational system that does not provide free or affordable college education.”
She added that these women are often given fertility drugs without being warned of the possible side effects, and that they face other medical and psychological injuries from the procedure, “including an inability to bear other children and even death.”
She also slammed the bill for failing to provide measures properly to vet intended parents, unlike adoptive parents, who are thoroughly vetted.
Poust told CNA that while the Catholic Conference has strongly opposed the legalization of surrogacy, he worried that the bill still may pass, as Cuomo has made it an “end of session priority.”
Poust said he hopes the added opposition of otherwise progressive feminists will hold even more sway with state lawmakers considering the bill.