In our society, surrogacy and in vitro fertilization (IVF) may seem like a practical solution to couples struggling with infertility. Biotechnological advancements have allowed those who are unable to have children themselves to become parents through methods other than adoption. But the dangers of surrogacy and IVF, both to the child and the surrogate mother, are immense, whether physical, emotional, or psychological.
Dr. Jennifer Roback Morse, founder and president of The Ruth Institute, joins Traci DeVette Griggs on this week’s Family Policy Matters radio show and podcast to discuss just how dangerous the fertility industry can be, and how it flies in the face of the values of the pro-life movement.
“[Surrogacy] is a practice that turns the person from a person created in the image and likeness of God into a commodity,” says Dr. Morse. “Something that can be bought and sold and is property.”
“It’s very important for Christians to look beyond those [fancy] headlines and look beyond the advertising copy to realize that this is a business,” she continues, “and it’s being run like a business. Exploitation of women and the buying and selling of children is part of what this business is doing.”
“A child of any kind of third-party reproduction […] is a child of God and loved; you must never regret the child. […] But that child may end up having different kinds of issues that will be very difficult to discuss inside the family.”
Tune in to Family Policy Matters this week to hear Dr. Morse share more about the dark, dangerous side to the fertility industry.
TRACI GRIGGS: Thanks for joining us this week for Family Policy Matters. Most Christians wholeheartedly agree that children are a gift from God. But sadly, we may know, or we may be a wonderful couple struggling with infertility. It can be heartbreaking. So much so that some of these couples turn to a variety of biotechnologies they hope will help. In our society, and even among Christian circles, surrogacy may seem like a practical solution to the problem.
Well, just recently, Anderson Cooper made national headlines announcing the birth of his son by an unnamed surrogate. And when a columnist suggested that the unnamed surrogate might deserve some credit, the backlash was swift and aggressive. Is it possible that behind what many see as a selfless act of surrogacy lies a culture of exploitation?
Dr. Jennifer Roback Morse, Founder and President of The Ruth Institute, is here to talk with us about that. Dr. Morse, welcome to Family Policy Matters.
DR. JENNIFER ROBACK MORSE: Thank you so much for having me.
TRACI GRIGGS: Many of us have friends or relatives who have struggled with infertility. This is a tough topic, but you and others have argued that in surrogacy, the rights of the child are almost never considered. What do you mean by that?
DR. JENNIFER ROBACK MORSE: Well, first of all, let me say for the record that I experienced infertility years ago, and so I’m very sympathetic with the plight of infertile couples, but the rights of the child are paramount. And what I mean by that is the right of every person to come into existence as the result of an act of love between their mother and father. And along with that comes the right to know your mother and father, the right to be in relationship with your mother and father, and also protection of the bond between your mother and father. So, all of those things are wrapped up in the sexual act and the integrity of the sexual act, and this is why God has planned things the way he has so that all of those things are preserved for the child and for the couple themselves. The other thing that’s not very well-known is that the artificial technology procedures themselves have medical risks associated with them. We have a pamphlet at The Ruth Institute that just goes through the problems associated, which include low birth weight, a high probability of preterm birth, cerebral palsy, and a whole variety of problems that are more likely if you’re using any form of invitro fertilization. And that of course is true, whether it’s a surrogate or the husband and wife using their own gametes, or the gametes are purchased, or anything like that. It’s just IVF carries risk for the child. And you know, we should just be aware of that because the infertility industry isn’t going to tell you that.
TRACI GRIGGS: Why do you think that surrogacy is so appealing, even to religious couples who truly do see children as a gift? Why are we all sort of seemingly on board with how this is a wonderful thing?
DR. JENNIFER ROBACK MORSE: Well, I think it goes back to the sort of consumer mindset that we as Americans have. And that’s not a Christian or non-Christian thing. That’s an American thing that we are very consumerist. We’re used to going and buying what we want. And we think if we can, we’re allowed to. If it’s legally available, we’re allowed to do what we want. I get calls from European feminists, Traci, saying to me, “We’re banning this stuff over here. Where are the American feminists? Where are the American Christians? What’s going on here?” You know? So, there’s just a sense of entitlement that because we want it, that’s good enough reason to do it. And of course, we know that’s not true, but that’s the frame of mind we get into.
TRACI GRIGGS: Right? And we have a fancy word for that, for buying and selling, and we call it “commodifying.” Right? So, talk a little bit about that and how surrogacy commodifies children, and even women.
DR. JENNIFER ROBACK MORSE: We use this word “commodify” or “commodification.” What we’re saying is it turns the person, this is a practice that turns the person from a person created in the image and likeness of God and turns them into a commodity, something that can be bought and sold and is properly the object of contracts and stuff like that. And so the way surrogacy works is that the “commissioning parents,” and that’s what they’re called. The commissioning parents purchase an egg, and then they rent the womb of usually another person. Okay, and so you’ve got two women involved, the gestational surrogate, who is the person who carries the baby, then the genetic mother, the person who donates the egg. In both cases, what you’ve got is a financial transaction taking place where the person doing the purchasing is generally better off financially than the person that they’re buying from and the people they’re buying from. And then at the end of this whole process, these two women deliver the baby to the person who commissioned it, and they have no legal rights whatsoever, ever again. That’s what this contract amounts to. So, you know, to me it looks like we’re buying and selling people.
And the other thing that should be said is that all of this comes to a head in Anderson Cooper’s case. Anderson Cooper, he himself is the child of Gloria Vanderbilt. Okay, this is a man who was born with a silver spoon in his mouth. He is openly gay and talks about that. He recently talked about how much he loved his mother and how his mother was so happy when she found out that he was going to become a father. Well, if his mother matters to him, why does he think that he can deprive his own son of a mother, of his two mothers that he has? So, Anderson Cooper buys an egg, rents a womb, and now he’s got a nanny to take care of the baby. This poor child is being handled through transactions, one transaction after another, in every aspect of his life that should be governed by love, not by money. Of course, every child is an unrepeatable gift from God. And although injustice was done to little Wyatt Cooper here in the manner of his conception, it was unjust to him, but he is a child of God, and we must never regret the child himself. But that doesn’t get us off the hook for our immoral practices here.
TRACI GRIGGS: Absolutely. Thank you for saying that. You’ve even gone as far as to say that surrogacy is a means of “female erasure.”
DR. JENNIFER ROBACK MORSE: Surrogacy is a form of “female erasure,” and this is the very thing that Joyce Carol Oates said in her tweet about Anderson Cooper’s baby. She said, “You would think dear Anderson was both mother and father to this child, and this woman delivered the baby to him, and now she’s disappeared.” Poof, you know. And everybody got so mad at her about that. But the fact is both the surrogate mother and the egg donor, the genetic mother and the gestation mother, have both been completely legally and socially erased from this child’s life. And so, we’re saying women are not necessary. If you’re a man and you’ve got enough money, we give you the legal right to acquire babies without any relationship with the child’s mother whatsoever. Who thinks this is a good idea? I just don’t get it.
TRACI GRIGGS: There are all kinds of things in the contract that the surrogate has to sign as well, aren’t there, that could be problematic?
DR. JENNIFER ROBACK MORSE: Oh, sometimes these contracts include clauses like the commissioning parents have the right to tell her to have an abortion if they change their mind. If there’s certain kinds of genetic defects discovered somewhere along the line, they may have the right to tell her that she has to abort the baby. They may tell her that she has to do selective reduction if they’ve implanted multiple embryos in her womb. It’s not unusual. I won’t say it always happens, but it’s certainly not unusual, Traci, for there to be an abortion requirement built into the contract.
TRACI GRIGGS: The United States has often been referred to as the “Wild West” of the fertility industry. Do you think that description is accurate?
DR. JENNIFER ROBACK MORSE: Yep, that is absolutely accurate. The United States is the “Wild West” of the fertility industry, and it’s an international big business. And that’s what people need to understand about it. This is a big business. It’s a multibillion-dollar business. They have the capacity of doing lots and lots of very favorable publicity for themselves. And so, what you see, the image that they’re able to project is an image that’s cuddly and warm and soft and loving, and we’re, you know, we’re making babies, and isn’t that wonderful? But all these things we’ve been talking about—the dark side—you don’t see that in the public image. It’s very important for Christians to look beyond those headlines and look beyond the advertising copy to realize that this is a business, and it’s being run like a business. Exploitation of women and the buying and selling of children is part of what this business is doing.And so yes, it is the “Wild West,” but with this one exception, that the government absolutely protects the surrogacy contract. It wouldn’t be the “Wild West” without the government protecting certain kinds of contracts and saying, “We are going to enforce these kinds of contracts.” Without the government saying, “We are legally erasing certain people from the child’s life” and saying, “Their mother, their egg donor is simply a donor and a legal stranger to the child.” Without the government doing that, this industry wouldn’t exist.
TRACI GRIGGS: What else do our listeners need to know about this issue?
DR. JENNIFER ROBACK MORSE: The first thing you need to know is that if you know a child of any kind of third-party reproduction, please know that that child is a child of God and loved, and you must never regret the child. Second, please inform yourself that that child may end up having different kinds of issues that will be very difficult to discuss inside the family. So, if there’s jealousy between the couple who was the natural parent and the one who was not the natural parent, who is the social parent, but somebody brought in an egg, there’s often tension inside the family. If you’re on the outside looking in, try to make yourself available to be helpful, which is extremely delicate, but be aware that that’s part of the dynamic of this whole thing. And number three, people who have infertility problems need to understand that there are natural methods for dealing with a lot of the issues, not all of them, but a lot of the issues. And something called NaProTechnology,which we could do another whole show on, but there are some natural solutions to some of these problems. And finally, the infertility itself is a spiritual crisis, and therefore you need to increase the closeness of your walk with Jesus Christ during that period of time. For me, that’s what it was. Infertility was a huge spiritual crisis in my life. I would commend people to look in that direction. Look towards the cross; do not look towards the men in the white lab coats; they’re not really your friends.
TRACI GRIGGS: So what kind of power do we have on the state level? Of course, the North Carolina Family Policy Council, we deal primarily with state policy. What can our state lawmakers, if they happen to be listening, what could they do to address this?
DR. JENNIFER ROBACK MORSE: So, here’s some low-hanging fruit for your state lawmakers. They could demand that the infertility practices within their state, whether it’s a doctor’s office or a clinic, they could demand accurate record keeping so that when people walk through that door and they are quoted some kind of failure rate, that you know exactly what is being quoted to them. Because sometimes you’ll go in there and they’ll tell you, “We have this rate of success. We’ve got this many pregnancies.” But they don’t tell you how many miscarriages they have. They don’t tell you how many live births they ended up with. They don’t tell you what kind of birth defects the kids have, and so on. So, a very simple place for lawmakers in any state to begin is to regulate the kinds of information that the infertility practices are required to keep. As far as I know, we don’t have accurate information from a lot of these places. A lot of it is voluntary. It’s not uniform, so a lot of the questions we’re talking about, we don’t know the full extent of them because nobody’s keeping track. I think your lawmakers could easily make the case that it is in the public interest for people to be well-informed, and you watch and see what the infertility industry throws up about that.
TRACI GRIGGS: Well, we are about out of time. Before we go though, where can our listeners go to learn more about surrogacy and all the good work of The Ruth Institute?
DR. JENNIFER ROBACK MORSE: I really hope your listeners will join us over at ruthinstitute.org. That’s our main website. We have in The Ruth Institute Store a pamphlet called, “Children and Donor Conception and Assisted Reproduction,” and that has a lot of the facts and figures on the subject, so far as we are able to discern it. And within our website, we have a special page for donor conceived persons, where we catalog all of the various articles and relevant information that pertains to the experiences of donor conceived persons.
TRACI GRIGGS: Dr. Jennifer Roback Morse, Founder and President of The Ruth Institute, thank you so much for being with us today on Family Policy Matters.