On December 17, the European Parliament officially passed a motion condemning and prohibiting the practice of surrogacy. According to the text, the European Parliament objects to surrogacy on the grounds that it “undermines the human dignity of the woman [because] her body and its reproductive functions are used as a commodity.” The motion went on to prohibit surrogacy, saying, “The practice of gestational surrogacy, which involves reproductive exploitation and use of the human body for financial or other gain, in particular in the case of vulnerable women in developing countries, shall be prohibited and treated as a matter of urgency in human rights instruments.”
The European Parliament is not the first to denounce or outlaw surrogacy. Some individual European countries, including France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Portugal, and Bulgaria, already prohibit surrogacy in all forms. Commercial surrogacy (for pay) is outlawed in the United Kingdom, Ireland, Denmark, and Belgium. Many other countries have banned or restricted the practice. Some have even classified it as human trafficking. The president of the Center for Bioethics and Culture Network has called for U.S. presidential candidates to take a position on the issue. Currently, surrogacy laws in the U.S. vary by state, but there are no federal laws against commercial surrogacy.
The European Parliament’s claim—that surrogacy exploits women, particularly the vulnerable—is not a baseless one. Because the cost of surrogacy in the United States is high, many turn to less-developed countries such as India, where the industry is booming. Exact statistics are unavailable, but a 2012 United Nations study found that surrogacy business in India generates $400 million a year, and the country has more than three thousand fertility clinics. Surrogacy is particularly attractive to low-income women, who can make through surrogacy what it would take years, even decades, to make in their day jobs. As a 2015 VICE News segment on surrogacy in India revealed, women are often recruited from the slums, signing contracts that most of them cannot read, with no recourse when they receive only half the payment promised, which appears to happen regularly.
The issues surrounding surrogacy will certainly continue to be debated, here and abroad, but I am glad to see the European Union taking a stand against the exploitation of women.
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