February 23, 2024

A UK feminist throws a grenade into the surrogacy debate

Julie Bindel, one of Britain’s best-known radical feminists, has written a savage critique of commercial surrogacy in Prospect, a progressive magazine. Bindel is a “political lesbian” and has campaigned for many years against prostitution, pornography, and rape, and more recently against transgenderism. Here are a few paragraphs from her article, “Why commercial surrogacy is little better than the sex trade”.

I’m concerned about all children born to surrogates. None of the protections that reputable adoption agencies put in place before parents are approved such as criminal background checks, mandatory participation in adoptive parent preparation classes, assurance that the adoptive families are medically, financially and mentally stable and comprehensive home visits, are required. Although some surrogacy clinics may do these checks, there is no legal requirement for them. 

Surrogacy is exploitation whether it is carried out for profit or altruism. The harm to surrogate mothers is well documented, especially now that former surrogates are speaking out about their experiences. The law should reflect this, and outlaw all formal surrogacy arrangements. The surrogates themselves—lured in by the promise of money, and by suggestions that surrogacy is altruistic, and they are “helping a family”—should never be criminalised, but the brokers and other profiteers should.  

The buying and selling of women’s bodies for reproduction is supported by many on the left—a notable exception to their usual critique of capitalism. In fact, surrogacy in the US is celebrated and seen as little different to purchasing an airline ticket. The women in the system have no name, no voice, no identity. The state allows the trafficking of their reproductive system, with a high risk of maternal mortality, protecting only her right to be paid. The surrogacy trade is similar to the sex trafficking and mail-order bride industries—in that the female body, in one way or another, is the merchandise for sale.