Gay rights don’t need to come at the cost of trafficking women’s organs

In theory, the law allows women to carry someone else’s child only out of altruism. In practice, however, that is not what actually happens.

 Hundreds of members of LGBT community protest surrogacy law in Tel Aviv (photo credit: Courtesy)
Hundreds of members of LGBT community protest surrogacy law in Tel Aviv
(photo credit: Courtesy)
The demonstrations for LGBT rights throughout Israel Sunday received relatively broad support throughout Israel, with tens of thousands – some even estimating close to 100,000 – turning out for the main rally in Tel Aviv’s Rabin Square.
While the rallies and marches were for equality for LGBT people in general, the impetus for taking to the streets was the amended surrogacy law, which passed last week, expanding the right to hire a surrogate to include single women who are unable to bear children, due to medical difficulties, but not single men. The de facto outcome of that law is that male gay men cannot have biological children through a surrogate, sparking outrage among those who argued that the policy is discriminatory.
But the problem with the surrogacy law is broader than just gay men.
What really ought to be protested is that in allowing surrogacy at all, the government has been sanctioning the trafficking of women’s organs for the past 22 years.
It’s trendy to compare any injustices against women to the novel-turned-TV-show The Handmaid’s Tale these days, but surrogacy is really an echo of the dystopian Gilead, where an infertility crisis leads to the enslavement of fertile women to more privileged couples that cannot have children.
In Israel, the law says that neither side of a surrogacy agreement can “receive or give compensation in money or in the equivalent of money... except for payments authorized by the authorization committee.”
In theory, the law allows women to carry someone else’s child only out of altruism. In practice, however, that is not what actually happens.
Prof. Talia Eldar-Geva, chairwoman of the Israeli Fertility Association, said in one of the Knesset discussions of the bill that “anyone who has been pregnant and given birth knows how difficult and painful this matter is, and anyone who treated surrogates who are pregnant... knows that what characterizes this population is the gap between the surrogate population and the populations that use surrogacy services....
“In Israel, this is a matter of a lot of money, and a large part of the surrogates come from a very deep need – and I don’t want to say to sell their bodies for money, but in some place, that’s the extreme. In order not to reach the extreme... we must have some kind of limitation in the use of surrogates.”
In other words, there tends to be a major class difference between the people who pay for a surrogate and the women who agree to carry their babies.
Knesset Health Committee chairman Eli Alalouf showed awareness of the law’s shortcomings when it was discussed in his panel, saying that if people truly wanted equality, this law would not exist.
There is also the emotional toll of carrying a baby for 10 months (don’t be fooled into thinking it’s really nine) and then not keeping it.
And then there are the health issues. In the absolute joy of a new baby being born, the lasting effects of pregnancy on a woman’s body are rarely part of the public discourse, but that doesn’t make them less serious. Postpartum depression is probably the most-discussed one, which is a real condition experienced by one in 10 women after childbirth, and which requires care. But even more common is diastasis recti, the separation of the abdominal muscles that an estimated 60% of mothers experience, which needs the attention of a physical therapist and sometimes surgery to be resolved. Or consider pelvic organ prolapse, a condition that a writer for Self described as “my vagina started falling out,” involving the small bowel, bladder, uterus and rectum drooping toward the vagina, because the muscles supporting them collapsed in the trauma of childbirth. An estimated 11% of women are at risk for this condition.
Are the people renting out a woman’s womb also following up with the woman throughout her lifetime and paying for medical care for all of those issues? Not usually.
Some have argued that surrogacy should be allowed because women should be allowed to make their own decision on this matter.
The question that needs to be asked here is, Why is that only the case for surrogacy and not for organ donors? One cannot legally sell a kidney in Israel, in part to avoid the aforementioned problems with surrogacy – so that poor, desperate people don’t sell off their organs for money and potentially risk greater health issues because they need cash.
An argument can be made for a truly altruistic surrogacy system, like the organ donation system, which would be fair.
But until that happens, this is another form of discrimination, even of the commodification of women, of calculating their worth by their childbearing abilities.
Wanting to be a parent is human and is commendable in a developed world of dropping birth rates. Heterosexuals certainly are not all good parents, and gay men certainly can be wonderful parents.
But gay parenthood – indeed, parenthood in general – does not need to come at the expense of trafficking in women’s bodies.