The purchasers often make demands on how the surrogate mother lives her life, for example regarding her diet, exercise and sexual activity. Her life is best described as temporary serfdom, since the woman no longer has the right to decide over her own body and lifestyle. It is also important to remember that legal safeguards in Western countries do not help surrogates in vulnerable countries. Clients who come from countries where surrogacy is legal, like Great Britain and the Netherlands, still make use of surrogates from these parts of the world.
The effects of pregnancy, both physical and psychological, are impossible to predict. Every pregnancy is unique, just as every woman and every child is unique. What we do know, however, is that being pregnant and giving birth is one of the most perilous things a fertile woman can commit herself to. A pregnancy is never risk-free. Some of the risks, apart from death, are fecal incontinence (3 percent), depression (12.5 percent), preeclampsia (7 percent) and Graves’ Disease (6 percent). The statistics refer to Swedish women under the conditions in our country, not to conditions in India. Children born to surrogate mothers in India are more often delivered by a caesarean since the children are too big for the mother. This entails further risks of complications, both in the present situation and in future pregnancies.
The right to enter into an agreement with another individual has never been absolute. It is forbidden to enter into a contract to commit a murder or to sell oneself into slavery. Contractual freedom only goes so far. The Swedish Women’s Lobby views surrogate motherhood as a contract of temporary serfdom, where the surrogate mother waives her rights to bodily integrity during the pregnancy. What if the surrogate mother changes her mind? Are we to involve the police and force her to fulfill her contractual obligation? Can we deny her the right to abortion? Can the purchasers demand a refund or indemnity if she doesn’t follow through or if she has a miscarriage? The judicial system cannot and should not enforce the realization of a contract where a woman has waived her human rights.
Neglect of a human rights perspective in the debate on surrogacy
The aspect of social and economic vulnerability, however tangible it may be, is not the primary reason why surrogacy should be illegal. Allowing surrogacy is to make use of women’s bodies and reproductive organs for the enjoyment of someone else, to the detriment of the woman herself.
We must privilege the right to bodily integrity and fundamental human rights over a supposed right for parents to have children. Children always have the right to have parents, but there is no human right for parents to have children. Every child has the right not to be a commodity on a market. We must renounce the view of a liberal market-approach to surrogacy which privileges paying buyers while women’s rights are negotiable.
The Swedish Women’s Lobby fears a dismantling of fundamental rights in favor of the desire of some individuals to become parents in the name of personal fulfillment. The issue of surrogacy has been treated within the discourse of reproductive rights and the means of childless parents to have a baby. But a human rights perspective is the only plausible way of dealing with this issue. We find that the current investigation in Sweden is being framed in the wrong way. We therefore call on the Swedish government to forbid surrogate motherhood.
Having a feminist approach to surrogacy means rejecting the idea that women can be used as mere vessels and that their reproductive capabilities can be bought. The right to bodily integrity is a right which should not be able to be negotiated by any form of contract. However the contract is worded, surrogacy is still trading with women’s bodies and with children. The rights of women and children, not the interests of the buyer, must be the focus of the debate surrounding surrogacy.
The Swedish Women’s Lobby (SWL)is a politically and religiously independent umbrella organization for women’s organizations in Sweden. There stated mission is to "work to achieve women’s full human rights and a gender equal society within Sweden, the EU and internationally." This article originally appeared on mercatornet.com.