Ben Shapiro is without question one of the West’s most courageous and articulate voices in his defence of conservative values. However, his recent comments regarding the ethical legitimacy of surrogacy at a recent March for Life event in the United States has exposed a rare weakness in his normally robust philosophical position.
In short, Shapiro argued that “surrogacy can be useful and wonderful in some cases.” To be fair, he also acknowledged that “surrogacy is a privilege of rich Hollywood leftists.” Precisely. As Katy Faust—a leading children’s rights activist and founder of Them Before Us—wrote in The Federalist, “Kim Kardashian won’t be carrying a baby for a poor Guatemalan woman, ever. In surrogacy, the rich buy and the poor sell.” What’s more, Faust went on to rightly explain that:
Regarding the suggestion that women will be forced to become pregnant a la “The Handmaid’s Tale,” Shapiro concluded “It’s just not true.” Except that, it is true in country after country where surrogacy is legalized. In fact, moments after I listened to the portion of his speech on surrogacy, a staunchly pro-life Indian woman standing in the crowd messaged me, “As much as I admire [Ben] for his views, especially his pro-life arguments, his view on surrogacy is disturbing. Since I am from India I’m more affected by this.”
Like all Indians, she is well aware of the factories of surrogates that have sprung up across India (and Nepal and Cambodia and Thailand and Laos) where hundreds of poor, brown “Offreds” service mostly wealthy white foreigners in search of cheap wombs. These surrogates are often chosen from a catalogue; their diet, movements, and relationships are closely monitored.
Realizing the threat surrogacy poses to women and children, India (and other previously surrogate-friendly countries) are finally banning it. The pro-abortion activists are right about “The Handmaid’s Tale,” they just got the victims wrong.
Especially as someone who identifies as being an orthodox Jew, it’s especially surprising that Shapiro wouldn’t be aware of the negative consequences that the practice of surrogacy has had upon the formation especially of Israel. (See Gen. 16:1-6; 21:8-21 and 30:1-24). What’s more, the practice of genetic surrogacy was an accepted practice in the Ancient Near East. For instance, according to Bioethicist Scott B. Rae, “Both the Code of Hammurabi (1792-1750 BC) and the Nuzi tablets (1520 BC) authorize surrogacy, and not only for cases of barrenness.”
Contrary to the writings of Margaret Attwood (aka The Handmaid’s Tale) it was the Judeo-Christian religions which protected—rather than promoted—unmarried women from being exploited as ‘baby breeders’. This is because it nearly always involved female slaves or servants who had no reproductive choice in the matter.
Katy Faust has previously argued in a number of other articles for The Federalist, how there are a plethora of ways that surrogacy is not only a violation of the child’s human rights but, tragically, actually harms children. (Note that according to the Chicago Tribune, there has been a fifty per cent increase in the past five years of homosexual men purchasing donor eggs, with a total of 10-20 percent going to gay couples. The reason why this is significant is, because as Jennifer Lahl points out, gay men often react to critiques of renting poor women’s wombs as ‘hate speech’). Faust lists with the following seven reasons:
- Commodification of Children. Children are not products; they are human beings with inherent rights and thus worthy of protection. Selecting desirable embryos based on health, appearance, gender, race, or other characteristics treats humans as products, not people. This kind of behaviour is appropriate when purchasing a car, but not when having a child.
- Right to life. The embryos deemed unacceptable are routinely destroyed. Often commissioning parents will, for the sake of maximizing their investment, implant multiple embryos and then “selectively reduce” (that is, abort around 20 weeks) the unwanted children, even if they are perfectly healthy.
- Right to their mother. Children have a right to both biological parents. They are not items to be cut and pasted into the romantic configuration of adults. Like every other child, these girls are made by, and will likely long for, a relationship with both biological parents. Kids don’t just need “love and safety.” They actually crave male and female parental love and receive unique and complimentary benefits from both mother and father.
- Right to their genetic information. Children crave, and have a right to, their biological identity. Not only because they want to understand who they are, but it’s also critical for their long term medical health- and the health of their own children. It’s a violation of a child’s right to arbitrarily deny them access to half of their biology.
- Right to their heritage. Biological connection mattered enough for these commissioning fathers to ensure that each dad got one biological child. Probably because they wanted grandchildren and great-grandchildren related to them as well. But it works the other way too. Children have a right to know, and desire to be known by, both sides of their extended family and racial/ethnic culture whenever possible.
- Right to be born free—not bought and sold. As mentioned in the article, purchasing eggs and employing a surrogate costs $100,000- $200,000. Many children born via sperm and egg donation are troubled that money exchanged hands over their conception, no matter how little. I heard one adult child painfully remark “My father (sperm donor) was paid $75 to stay out of my life forever.”
- Subjecting children to increased medical risks. Pregnancies resulting from reproductive technologies are more likely to involve complications. Children born through surrogacy, for example, are more likely to be premature, suffer from low birth weight, and have trouble adjusting likely due to “the absence of a gestational connection to the mother.”
One of the most compelling arguments against the practice of surrogacy, though, was made by the Bioethicist Daniel Callahan. Writing in The New York Times, January 20, 1987, Callahan wrote a piece titled: “Surrogate Motherhood: A Bad Idea”. Little did Callahan perceive how prescient his warnings would be. Callahan wrote:
We will be forced to cultivate the services of women with the hardly desirable trait of being willing to gestate and then give up their own children, especially if paid enough to do so…There would still be the need to find women with the capacity to dissociate and distance themselves from their own child. This is not a psychological trait we should want to foster, even in the name of altruism.
Surely Callahan’s point here is correct. Surrogacy effectively turns a psychological vice (emotional detachment) into an altruistic virtue (the provision of human life). However, as if commonly being acknowledged, it is nothing less than “eggsploitation”.
Hence, it is really quite disingenuous and wrong for Shapiro to say that surrogacy can be “useful” and “wonderful” in some cases. Women are more than ‘baby breeders’ and a surrogate mother is so much more than a ‘prenatal babysitter’. What makes someone a mother is not merely the provision of their own genes, but what a woman endures throughout conception, nine months of gestation, the trauma of delivery, and—as science is increasingly discovering—the psychological, physical and emotional bond that occurs through that entire process.
Mark Powell is the Associate Pastor of Cornerstone Presbyterian Church, Strathfield.
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