Activists call it a human rights issue
The Swedish Women’s Lobby strongly opposes surrogate motherhood. Our position is that surrogacy is a trade with women’s bodies and children, as well as a threat to women’s basic human rights and bodily integrity.
Surrogacy is presently not legal in Sweden. However there is no legislation that regulates the fact that Swedish citizens use surrogate mothers abroad, and that their children have been brought to Sweden. In the last couple of years the issue has been up for debate and the Swedish government is examining whether surrogacy should be legalized. The results of its investigation will be presented in a few months.
Last year, the Swedish Medical-Ethical Council commented on the proposal. A majority of its members declared that they approved legal altruistic surrogate motherhood in Sweden.
The Swedish Women’s Lobby has reacted to this position. We have expressed concern about the parties’ understanding of altruistic surrogacy, as well as the fact that the Ministry of Justice is handling the investigation. There is a lack of a women’s human rights perspective. The Swedish Women’s Lobby has been active in the public debate around the issue and has written several letters to the Ministry of Justice as well as the Social Ministry and the Medical-Ethical Council.
Together with several other women’s organizations we have launched the campaign Feministiskt nej till surrogatmödraskap (Feminist No to Surrogacy). Through the campaign, we have provided an alternative forum on feminist grounds where the focus lies on women’s bodily integrity and not the rights for childless parents over women’s basic human rights. We are also working actively to affect and engage the political parties in this matter.
Altruistic and commercial surrogacy
Unlike commercial surrogacy, altruistic surrogates are expected not to ask for any compensation for sacrificing their bodies. Altruistic surrogacy relies on the goodwill of other women, their readiness for self-sacrifice and to make available their own bodies and reproductive organs without any remuneration for the entire pregnancy. And in the end, they are expected to give away the child they have been carrying for nine months.
Experiences from countries where altruistic surrogacy is legal, such as Great Britain, the Netherlands and the United States, show that when altruistic surrogacy has been legalized, commercialization has ensued. It is very hard to ensure that no money or bribes have been involved or that undue pressure has been exerted. These issues are of little concern in the public debate and have not been properly taken into consideration.
Social and economic inequality as prerequisites for exploitation
In the majority of the cases of commercial surrogacy, purchasers come from Western countries and surrogates from Third World or developing countries. There is an unequal power balance between purchasers and surrogates. Western people prey on Eastern women’s vulnerable economic situation in their quest for a child. Becoming a surrogate mother is a way for women in socially vulnerable positions to sell what fundamental human rights should protect them from selling — their own bodies.
To speak of free will and a women’s choice in these contexts is highly problematic. A study of surrogate mothers in Anand, India, revealed that 50 percent were illiterate and that many could not read the contract that they were signing. Signing a contract means signing away the right to one’s own body. The women are dependent on someone else to ensure that they understand the terms of the commitment and their rights during the process of the pregnancy. They often come from poor backgrounds and their living conditions do not allow them a fair array of choices when it comes to making a living or making a choice that does not compromise their bodily integrity.