May 24, 2024

Bioethics on Capitol Hill: a $5 million surrogacy?

A bad hair day for pro-life politicians in Congress

One of the quirkier stories bobbing in the flood of “inappropriate behaviour” in media HQs, Hollywood and Washington comes from the House of Representatives this week. A strongly pro-life Congressman from Arizona, 60-year-old Trent Franks, has resigned after being accused of pressuring a staff member to act as a surrogate mother for him and his wife. It is one of three resignations this week for “inappropriate behaviour” from Congress.

According to an AP exclusive, the woman claims that he offered her US$5 million – an amazing figure when the going rate is only about $100,000. She says that Mr Franks asked her at least four times if she would be a commercial surrogate.

At least one other staffer has alleged that Franks approached her about surrogacy.

In a statement announcing his resignation, the former Congressman said that he and his wife had struggled with infertility. But he said he “absolutely never physically intimidated, coerced, or had, or attempted to have, any sexual contact with any member of my congressional staff.”

Franks, a Southern Baptist, and his wife tried IVF and adoption without success. They organised twins with a surrogate mother, whom he described as “a wonderful and loving lady, to whom we will be forever grateful.” But then they wanted another child. He described the IVF technique used in tandem with the surrogacy as a “pro-life approach” that did not result in discarding embryos.

Given Franks’s reputation as a crusading anti-abortion Christian, these revelations have sparked comments from all angles. The debate is more about pressure than reproductive technology as such. After all, surrogacy has become a familiar theme in American politics. The son of the Republican presidential candidate in 2012, Mitt Romney, used a surrogate to bear twins.

However, coming from an aggressively pro-life Baptist, the notion of surrogacy smacked of hypocrisy. Evangelicals and Catholics are hostile toward IVF and surrogacy even if there are no surplus embryos. The Washington Post helpfully tracked down a statement from the Southern Baptist Convention to suggest that there was an inconsistency between Franks’ principles and his actions.

“Almost all Christian bioethicists agree that most forms of surrogacy are theologically and morally problematic. The moral qualms generally concern the exploitation of women (e.g., ‘womb-renting’), the selling of children, the violation of the marital covenant, and the use of embryo-destructive reproductive technology.”

Mother Jones described the Congressman’s actions as “incredibly creepy” and Salon compared them to the Handmaid’s Tale, Margaret Atwood’s dystopian fable about fundamentalist Christians who rape their servants if their wives are pregnant. It was not a good day for pro-life Christian politicians. 

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