We, the undersigned leaders and activists in the movement for gender, racial, and economic justice, respectfully urge you to withdraw your support of SB00017A/AB06959, which would legalize reproductive surrogacy contracts and the reproductive surrogacy industry in New York State. Our opposition to this bill emerges from our deep concern of the legalization of surrogacy contracts. We believe that the surrogacy industry in our state will harm the physical and psychological health of the most marginalized women in our State—women in conditions of poverty who disproportionately have histories of abuse and discrimination, including on the basis of gender and race—and will incentivize and unleash a ruthless industry to profit from their exploitation.
Many of the undersigned have a long, productive history of partnering with you to protect the basic human rights of women and girls in New York State and holds you in high esteem. While we know you to be a passionate advocate for the rights of women and girls and feel certain that your sponsorship of the bill to legalize surrogacy in New York State is well intended, we believe that you may not have at your fingertips comprehensive information about the magnitude of harm that this bill, if enacted into law, would inflict on the most economically vulnerable women in our state. We are convinced that if passed, this bill will legitimize the reproductive trafficking of women in New York State, open the door wide to the mass exploitation of women in consumer-driven contract pregnancies in our State, and ultimately render New York State a global destination for reproductive tourism.
Reproductive surrogacy creates risks to the physical health and well-being of women. In New York’s 2018 Report on the Status of Women and Girls, a key platform is reducing maternal mortality and improving women’s health. Legalizing and legitimizing reproductive surrogacy undermines these crucially important goals. A recent report on 124 surrogate mothers, showed that surrogate pregnancies and births “had significantly higher obstetrical complications, including gestational diabetes, hypertension, use of amniocentesis, placenta previa, antibiotic requirement during labor, and cesarean section.” These statistics translate into more high-risk pregnancies and longer hospitalization stays for both surrogate mothers and the infants born, who face higher rates of preterm birth and low birth weights.
The relationship between the surrogate mother who frequently is in a situation of economic need and the intended surrogate parents, who typically are people with considerable economic means, is premised on gross inequality. Although the proposed New York legislation on gestational contracts provides protections against certain onerous and invasive terms that have been imposed on women in surrogate contracts, such as restrictions on diet, submitting to testing, and proscriptions on sexual relations, this legislation cannot guarantee that such restrictions will not be used against the woman used as a surrogate since the intended parent(s) is allowed to purchase her medical insurance policy and pay for her legal assistance.
Surrogacy contracts institutionalize the commodification of women’s bodies. Even the language of surrogate and gestational mothers signals this commodification of women, pregnancy and reproduction. The so-called surrogate becomes an instrument of others’ desire for biological children. In the case of gestational surrogacy, pregnancy also becomes a commodity that can be bought by those who have means and sold by those who are disadvantaged economically.
Rather than a relationship between mother and fetus, pregnancy is treated as a product or a commercial service to be purchased. In the rarefied world of surrogacy contracts, pregnancy that under usual conditions is a relationship of the biological mother to the fetus, becomes stripped of any developing connection between the biological mother and the child-to-be-born. In fact, this normal relationship is frowned upon as interfering with the rights of the contracting parent (s) because the gestational mother is required to hand over the child born at birth. The chief function of women used as surrogates is to produce a child for the contracting parents and NOT develop any relationship with the intended child. She is encouraged to tell herself that she is not the mother of this developing child and is essentially treated as a breeder for others. Women’s wombs become mere environments for others’ reproductive choices.
In almost every country of the world, persons cannot legally sell their organs. It is recognized that selling organs, even with regulatory provisions, can create a burgeoning market and invite unscrupulous brokers whose goal is financial gain and taking advantage of those whose bodies are used. The poorest, the most disadvantaged, are the ones who usually come forward.
Some individuals believe that it is possible to create a legal market in live organs that would institutionalize safeguards against exploitation. As with those who argue against the legality of organ selling arrangements, we would argue that however surrogate contracts are regulated, surrogate arrangements can never be ethical because they will always target and harm the most vulnerable women. Why is it primarily the most disadvantaged women who participate in these contracts? We would further argue that the system can never be adequately regulated to prevent exploitation of the vulnerable because financial motivation and profit margin drive the decisions of the surrogate brokerage agencies.
The European Parliament “condemns the practice of surrogacy, which undermines the human dignity of the woman since her body and its reproductive functions are used as a commodity; considers that 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 new European Union policy framework to combat violence against women calls upon all member nations to “acknowledge the serious problem of surrogacy, which constitutes an exploitation of the female body and her reproductive organs.” It also emphasizes “that women and children are subject to the same forms of exploitation, that both can be regarded as commodities on the international reproductive market, and that these new reproductive arrangements, such as surrogacy, augment the trafficking of women and children.”
Women’s wombs are big business. Laws, regulations, and contracts overwhelmingly protect those with money, not those who need money.
As a lifelong and committed champion of women’s rights and equality, Assemblywoman Paulin, please withdraw your support of SB00017A/AB06959.
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