In the last issue of The Grapevine appeared an opinion piece entitled ‘WHY I BOTHER, PT. IV’ by Hildur Lilliendahl dealing with the topic of altruistic surrogacy and the Icelandic Parliament’s preparation to pass legislation in favour of it. The writer’s opinions were strongly opposed to this act and this opposition is based upon morals and personal beliefs. As a feminist of countering opinions to this, I will tell you why I, too, bother.
First of all, for those who missed it, altruistic surrogacy is an act wherein a reproductively-able woman consensually provides the service of carrying and giving birth to a child for a non-reproductively capable couple with no monetary gain beyond occupational and medical expenses. It is an agreement that is made between parties of sound body and mind, which have to undergo extensive medical and psychological examinations prior to the act of insemination, not to mention delivery.
The previously mentioned author states that surrogacy simply reduces a woman to a baby machine. I, on the other hand, contend that de-autonomisation a woman who chooses to act as a surrogate and to make choices for her own body is what is truly objectifying. By stating that legal surrogacy reduces a woman to being a baby machine, one actually DOES reduce a woman to being a baby machine; if one needs ephemeral legislation to determine what a woman is or is not in a reproductive sense, then the problem lies within one’s own internalised misogyny.
Not permitting surrogacy to legally exist does not empower women to make sound choices for their bodies, but removes their options by implying that they don’t know any better. It minimises, dehumanises and condescends to grown women who are independent thinkers as well as owners of a uterus. It reasserts the patriarchal notion that women cannot be trusted to make their own decisions when it comes to their bodies.
Furthermore, the article went on to compare altruistic surrogacy to the acts of prostitution and rape. As far as the latter goes, I would like to once again remind that by definition, altruistic surrogacy requires conscientious and enthusiastic consent, which is the completely opposite of what rape is. Speaking as a rape survivor myself, the comparison of the two is an appalling and dangerous line to cross, and is grossly insulting to both victims of the violent act of rape and women who happily engage in surrogacy. There are in fact hundreds of online surrogacy communities, advocates and support networks led by intelligent, healthy, sound-minded women.
The former, a comparison to prostitution, is actually not so far off—and I mean that in a good way. Like surrogates, women who conscientiously and enthusiastically choose sex work as a trade are constantly made the targets of de-autonomisation and victimisation (see “A Vicious Cycle of Victimisation” in last Grapevine issue!) and are usually left out of the political conversation about their situation. The result of this detracts from effectively isolating cases of human trafficking and prosecuting those by globally removing the rights of women to make choices, particularly those of marginalised women.
But coming back to the topic at hand, aside from the surrogate, the article reduced the hypothetical couple needing a surrogate to “some poor barren persons.” It is quite easy to be flippant and disrespectful of the reproductive situations of others if one is privileged enough to be a cisgender, heteronormative, reproductively-able woman, but it is also very easy to forget that many couples who seek surrogacy do not have the reproductive parts to do so—same-sex couples for example. Additionally, the moral opinions of such people are absolutely irrelevant to the discussion because it literally does not affect them. It’s basically just like the ridiculous United States Congressional hearing on female contraception that took place earlier this month wherein the entire panel was made up of heterosexual men—several of them priests! Jesus Christ…
Seeking the option of surrogacy does not denote entitlement, but rather the ability to explore a number of ways in which reproductive technology has advanced and allows people to help each other, if they so choose. The Icelandic Parliament enacting legislation that allows altruistic surrogacy does not imply that anyone will even use it, but more importantly does not force it upon anyone.
Ultimately, if one truly cares about encouraging stronger relationships between body and mind, one must first begin by respecting the bodies and minds of others as their own and not imposing morality upon each other. Stop the body-police brutality.