Womb for Sale: The Business of Surrogate Pregnancy

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For couples who can’t conceive, there are two basic options for having kids. They can either choose to adopt from the hundreds of thousands of kids available for adoption in the United States, or they can choose to try a surrogate pregnancy.

If you don’t know, a surrogate pregnancy is an agreement where an individual or couple pays another woman to carry and birth the child for them. Then, once the woman gives birth, the baby is handed over to the couple. This is different from adoption because the baby the surrogate is carrying contains genetic material from either one or both of the parents.

A Look at the Different Types of Surrogate Pregnancy

There are two different types of surrogate pregnancy. The original method of surrogacy involved the surrogate being impregnated using sperm from the father who will raise the child. In this method, the surrogate used her own eggs in the pregnancy, meaning she was the biological mother of the child.

Of course, this raises a spectrum of legal issues, which all came to light in 1986 during the well publicized Baby M case. Mary Beth Whitehead, a traditional surrogate mother, decided at the last moment that she wanted to keep her biological daughter at birth instead of giving her over to the Sterns, the couple she entered into an agreement with.  The case made its way to the New Jersey Supreme Court. In the end, the Sterns received custody of the baby, while the biological mother received visitation.

The other type of surrogacy is gestational surrogate pregnancy. With gestational surrogacy, the baby isn’t related to the surrogate mother. The surrogate is created in-vitro and can be the result of both parents’ genetic material. The surrogate mother does not use her own eggs, so the baby isn’t “hers.”

However, there have been cases where surrogate mothers using gestational surrogacy have still kept the babies they gave birth to. Most recently, Scott and Amy Kehoe entered into an agreement with Shelley Baker to have Baker carry the embryos. Baker gave birth to twins in July 2010, but refused to give the babies to the Kehoe family after learning of Amy Kehoe’s criminal and mental illness history.

The law was on Baker’s side, because she lived in Michigan—one of five states where surrogacy contracts aren’t recognized. The Kehoes weren’t biologically related to the babies (they bought donor eggs and sperm), so they had no further legal claim.

Surrogacy Laws Vary by State

The Kehoes’ case brings up an interesting point. Surrogacy laws vary by state. Some states don’t recognize surrogacy contracts, and others outright make it illegal to hire a surrogate. New York is one such state where hiring a surrogate mother is illegal. Florida and California, on the other hand, seem to be popular states for surrogacy, as they have laws protecting the commissioning parents in surrogate pregnancies.

In most cases, surrogates and the intended parents sign detailed contracts outlining their arrangement. This not only includes information on parental rights, but it also includes everything from how much money the surrogate will receive for maternity clothes and other related expenses to how many embryos she is willing to carry.

Surrogates get about $20,000 for their part in the process. The agency who matches the parents with the surrogate also collects about $20,000. The agency handles all screening to ensure surrogate mothers are in good health and financially secure to handle their duties properly.

Surrogate Pregnancies Get Outsourced

In an effort to save money, some couples in the U.S. are hiring surrogate mothers in other countries, most commonly in India. Women in India are lining up to carry babies for American couples at a fraction of the cost.  In some cases, hiring a surrogate in India could save a couple about 90%.

Of course, this method of surrogacy is controversial. Some call it “rent-a-womb”, alleging that outsourcing surrogacy is pure exploitation of the poor.

It’s also important to remember that success rates are higher in America, and standards for surrogate mothers are likely higher here as well.

Interested in Hiring a Surrogate?

If you’re interested in hiring a surrogate mother to carry your baby, there are some things you should do first.

What do you think about surrogate pregnancy? Should all states allow it? Is outsourcing it exploitation? Share your thoughts by leaving a comment below.