A labor of love and money

surrogatemotherhoodSurrogate pregnancy was the focus of Newsweek's cover story last week. Its angle was on the women who are surrogates as opposed to the medical advances of assisted reproductive technology or the laws and regulations governing the practice. The basic angle of the 4,500-word article is that while American women are paid $20,000 to $25,000 to carry someone else's biological child to term, it is an act of love more than a simple sale of services. I appreciate that angle and the article itself is very detailed and compassionate. The only problem is that it's sympathetic to the point of being ridiculous. It's not that reporters Lorraine Ali and Raina Kelley don't mention objections to the practice, it's just that this is how they handle them:

Surrogates challenge our most basic ideas about motherhood, and call into question what we've always thought of as an unbreakable bond between mother and child. It's no wonder many conservative Christians decry the practice as tampering with the miracle of life, while far-left feminists liken gestational carriers to prostitutes who degrade themselves by renting out their bodies.

What excellent and fair summaries of "conservative Christian" and "far-left feminist" opposition! Come on, those are ridiculous straw men. As nuanced as the portrayal of these surrogate mothers are, such infantile characterizations of complex and nuanced opposition are offensive. The only time criticism was heard, it was second-hand and clumsily portrayed.

Another problem is that I'm not entirely sure the information in the article supports its thesis that the action isn't about money so much as love. In fact, the notion that class plays a part in surrogacy arrangements is mocked. But one mother uses the money she earns from being a surrogate mother to take the family to DisneyWorld. Others just use it to supplement the income while their husbands serve in the military overseas. The only military spouse who wasn't married to a junior enlisted man was a woman who was using the money to pay for a piece of equipment for her autistic son. The whole piece, in fact, seems to be about military women trying to supplement their income:

Military wives are attractive candidates because of their health insurance, Tricare, which is provided by three different companies--Humana, TriWest and Health Net Federal Services--and has some of the most comprehensive coverage for surrogates in the industry. Fertility agencies know this, and may offer a potential surrogate with this health plan an extra $5,000. Last year military officials asked for a provision in the 2008 defense authorization bill to cut off coverage for any medical procedures related to surrogate pregnancy. They were unsuccessful -- there are no real data on how much the government spends on these cases. Tricare suggests that surrogate mothers who receive payment for their pregnancy should declare the amount they're receiving, which can then be deducted from their coverage. But since paid carriers have no incentive to say anything, most don't. "I was told by multiple people -- congressional staff, doctors and even ordinary taxpayers -- that they overheard conversations of women bragging about how easy it was to use Tricare coverage to finance surrogacy and delivery costs and make money on the side," says Navy Capt. Patricia Buss, who recently left the Defense Department and now holds a senior position with Health Net Federal Services.

Using government resources for personal gain seems like an area that could have been explored critically. But maybe I'm just a taxpayer.

Again, I love that the piece is not painting surrogate mothers simply as poor women in need of extra cash. But the fact is that lifestyle choices and class are a huge part of this story and one that is not being looked at critically. Infertility is an unbelievably difficult experience. But not all infertile couples can afford to pay someone $25,000 plus Superbowl tickets to gestate their unborn child. What's more, not all infertile couples that could afford to pay someone that much money would do so. Why? Why would some women rent out their wombs while others would never consider it? What are the religious and ethical questions that come with this arrangement? Why is this practice illegal in so much of the world?

Recent stories have appeared about the growing outsourcing of the womb to poor Indian women. This March piece in the New York Times was good. The Christian Science Monitor ran something about it last week. The media circus is due, in all likelihood, to the upcoming movie Baby Mama.

But for all the coverage of these surrogate mothers, there's just no significant mention of their religious views. It seems like it would be pretty easy to get that into a story on this topic. HopeandWill Check out how the reporters did shoehorn religion in, though:

IVF has been around only since the 1970s, but the idea of one woman bearing a baby for another is as old as civilization. Surrogacy was regulated in the Code of Hammurabi, dating from 1800 B.C., and appears several times in the Hebrew Bible. In the 16th chapter of Genesis, the infertile Sarah gives her servant, Hagar, to her husband, Abraham, to bear a child for them. Later, Jacob fathers children by the maids of his wives Leah and Rachel, who raise them as their own. It is also possible to view the story of Jesus' birth as a case of surrogacy, mediated not by a lawyer but an angel, though in that instance the birth mother did raise the baby.

That whole passage just strikes me as clumsy. Many sermons have been written about Sarah's offer of Hagar to Abraham. There have been many repercussions. But I'm pretty sure the prevailing view is not that it was a good model to follow. The point about Jesus, in my view, borders on blasphemous. But either way, if we're going to be mentioning all these religious examples, why aren't we permitting an actual engagement of religious ideas?

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