Can Surrogacy Remake the World?

Jessica Weisberg in The New Yorker:

Commercial surrogacy, the practice of paying a woman to carry and birth a child whom she will not parent, is largely unregulated in America. It’s illegal, with rare exceptions, in three states: New York, Louisiana, and Michigan. But, most states have no surrogacy laws at all. Though the technology was invented in 1986, the concept still seems, for many, a bit sci-fi, and support for it does not follow obvious political fault lines. It is typically championed by the gay-rights community, who see it as the only reproductive technology that allows gay men to have biological children, and condemned by some feminists, who see it as yet another business that exploits the female body. In June, when the New York State Assembly considered a bill that would legalize paid surrogacy, Gloria Steinem vigorously opposed it. “Under this bill, women in economic need become commercialized vessels for rent, and the fetuses they carry become the property of others,” Steinem wrote in a statement.

In a new book, “Full Surrogacy Now: Feminism Against the Family,” the author Sophie Lewis makes a forceful argument for legalization. Lewis takes little interest in the parents. It’s the surrogates who concern her. Regulation, she says, is the only way for them to avoid exploitation. Lewis frequently, if reluctantly, compares surrogacy to sex work, another industry that persists despite being illegal. Banning these jobs is pointless, Lewis says, aside from giving privileged feminists something to do, and making the work more dangerous. “Surrogacy bans uproot, isolate, and criminalize gestational workers, driving them underground and often into foreign lands, where they risk prosecution,” she writes. “As with sex work, the question of being for or against surrogacy is largely irrelevant. The question is, why is it assumed that one should be more against surrogacy than other risky jobs.”

Lewis does not offer straightforward policy suggestions. Her approach to the material is theoretical, devious, a mix of manifesto and memoir. Early in the book, she struggles to understand why anyone would want to get pregnant in the first place, and later she questions whether continuing the human race is a good idea. But she is solemn and unsparing in her assessment of the status quo. A portion of the book studies the Akanksha Fertility Clinic, in India, a surrogacy center that, according to Lewis, severely underpays and mistreats its workers. (Nayana Patel, who runs the clinic, has argued that Akanksha pays surrogates more than they would make at other jobs.) All of the Akanksha surrogates are required to have children of their own already, ostensibly because they know how difficult it is to raise a child and are therefore less likely to want to keep the ones they’re carrying.

More here.