Wombs for sale: The next debate in same-sex marriage

September 18, 2015

In the aftermath of legalized same-sex marriage, Americans may soon face a new ethical dilemma: commercial surrogacy. As Christopher White reports in his article on The Public Discourse, Surrogacy and Same-Sex Marriage: A Tale of Two Countries, the issue of “marriage equality” is morphing into the question of “family equality.” As White observes, “While many consider the contest over same-sex marriage in the United States to have been settled by the Supreme Court, the debate over surrogacy is just beginning.” Within the last decade, an increasing number of homosexual couples, especially gay men, are turning to surrogates in order to have genetically related children.

Ireland, where the legalization of same-sex marriage occurred just weeks before the U.S., is no stranger to this ethical question and gives some insight into the cultural debate. Days before Irish citizens voted on the referendum, the concern over third party reproduction made headlines. Those voting “Yes” assured the public that surrogacy and same-sex marriage were two separate issues. Those voting “No,” however, feared that the right to marry would lead to a demand for the right to procreate, despite the obvious biological impossibility. Discussing commercial surrogacy, in which a couple hires a woman to carry an embryo, Ireland’s Iona Institute, a Catholic organization, claims it exploits women. The 2013 Iona Report states, “In surrogacy, the woman rents her body. This should at a minimum alert us to the very strong possibility that surrogacy is a new form of exploitation and trafficking in women. In surrogacy, the child is treated as a commodity, the object of a legal agreement. The aim of surrogacy is to fulfil [sic] the desire of adults, to enable foreign parents to satisfy their wish for a child at any price.”

Contractual surrogacy isn’t the only problem. Even without a legally binding agreement, the definition of parental origin, or “parentage,” comes into play. In Britain where surrogacy is legal (as long as it’s not a commercial, business arrangement), a High Court judge settled a parental rights dispute of one homosexual couple and their surrogate in May 2015. Since the child belonged to the mother (artificially inseminated by her gay friend), she was not legally required to give up her parental rights. The homosexual couple had to apply for a parental order to legally become the child’s parents. But, according to the birth mother, she always intended to keep her baby, and after giving birth, refused to give the infant to her gay friend. She even implied the two men would not be good parents, something the judge called “homophobic and offensive.” The judge ruled in favor of the gay couple, requiring the woman to relinquish her rights as a mother.

Despite the growing number of homosexual men who make use of it, White notes that many people of the LGBT community actively oppose the practice of surrogacy.

People like Julie Bindle, a lesbian feminist in the UK. Bindle observes, “[C]ommercial surrogacy is fast becoming the preferred route for gay couples to have children, so much so that the trend is now known as the ‘Gaybe’ revolution.” Like many others, Bindle is outspoken in her disapproval of surrogacy among would-be homosexual parents, calling it “reproductive trafficking.” For Bindle, the problem isn’t a gay couple’s desire to have a family, but to demand a family in which the children are biologically related. In her scathing commentary, she says, “If gay couples want children, why on earth do they have to go down this exploitative route rather than adopting a child? The answer raises a profoundly troubling question about the attitudes of too many gay and lesbian couples. Fixated by vanity, imbued with overweening self-regard, they want to create a child in their own image, meeting a checklist of ideal characteristics.”

Bindle isn’t alone. Famed feminist author, Germaine Greer, accused Elton John and his partner (who have two sons through surrogacy) of “deconstructing the concept of motherhood.” According to Greer: “We now have a ‘genetic’ mother, who supplies eggs. It depends entirely on where she is if she is going to be allowed to know what happens to the eggs.”

And the question of “where she is,” brings up another issue. In India, where commercial surrogacy is permitted, women offer themselves as surrogates for cash. The nation’s multi-million dollar surrogacy industry, also known as “reproductive tourism,” allows travelers to hire a low-income woman to carry their embryo. It is, quite literally, a rent-a-womb business. For most surrogate women in India, the practice is done to pull themselves out of poverty. Recently, India started regulating commercial surrogacy, forbidding same-sex couples and single parents from contracting a surrogate. As Arthur Caplan argued in a New York Times debate last fall, the ethical problem is not with “altruistic surrogacy.” Rather, “it is paid surrogacy that gives me ethical heartburn, especially paid surrogacy that involves travel to other nations to find poor women to bear babies. The problem is exploitation.”

Here in the U.S., laws on surrogacy contracts vary from state to state. New York, for instance, prohibits all surrogacy contracts, while in California, both surrogacy and pre-birth orders of parentage are permitted. States like Texas, Illinois, and Florida allow surrogacy with certain conditions, but the adoptive parent(s) must apply for legal parentage after the baby’s birth. For now, individual states have determined the ethical boundaries for surrogacy. But with the legalization of same-sex marriage, we’re not far from legislating commercial surrogacy as a prerogative for same-sex couples.

California already has. Two years ago, Governor Jerry Brown, signed a law that required insurance companies to provide “fertility treatments” to same sex couples in California. Tom Ammiano, who drafted the law, claimed, “To restrict fertility coverage solely to heterosexual married couples violates California’s non-discrimination laws.” The law ensures “the same access to insurance coverage for fertility treatments as heterosexual couples.” For lesbian couples, in vitro fertilization is a biological option. But for homosexual men, the right to have biologically related offspring logically requires a surrogate.

White’s article also points to an op-ed in the LA Times written by Douglas Nejaime. Just after legalization of same-sex marriage in the U.S., Nejaime observes, “While lesbian couples have long used donor insemination to have children, gay male couples have increasingly turned to surrogacy, and most commonly gestational surrogacy, in which the surrogate carries a child genetically related to another woman — an egg donor — and one of the men.” For Nejaime, supporting gestational surrogacy contributes to family equality. He continues: “The battle over LGBT equality is far from over. But the court’s embrace of marriage equality takes a stand for sexual-orientation equality, and it should mean that ultimately lesbian and gay families will receive equal treatment under the law.”

The ethical dilemma surrounding surrogacy, same-sex couples, and “family equality” is the logical progression of same-sex marriage. If a same-sex couple is considered married with all that being married implies, and if biological procreation is considered a right for all married couples, then it follows that same-sex couples may legally demand the right to procreate. And since that is biologically impossible, they must look to other solutions, like surrogacy, to fulfill that demand.

Ultimately, the practice of surrogacy, especially commercial surrogacy, exploits women for their reproductive capacity. It uses women’s bodies for the sake of having genetically related offspring. And, it reduces a woman’s role in raising a child to a nine-month pregnancy.

Commercial surrogacy separates female biology from women’s maternity. As this issue continues to develop, we must affirm that motherhood is an indispensible role in the life of a child, one that entails so much more than biological birth. And, as same-sex couples attempt to form genetically related families, we can never forget that every child is worthy of being raised by a father and a mother. Finally, we must reject any practice that exploits women for their reproductive capacity. A woman’s womb is sacred; it should never be for sale.

This article was originally published here.

Katie McCoy

Katie McCoy serves as director of Women’s Ministry at Texas Baptists (Baptist General Convention of Texas). She holds a Ph.D. from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, where she previously served on faculty. Read More by this Author

Article 12: The Future of AI

We affirm that AI will continue to be developed in ways that we cannot currently imagine or understand, including AI that will far surpass many human abilities. God alone has the power to create life, and no future advancements in AI will usurp Him as the Creator of life. The church has a unique role in proclaiming human dignity for all and calling for the humane use of AI in all aspects of society.

We deny that AI will make us more or less human, or that AI will ever obtain a coequal level of worth, dignity, or value to image-bearers. Future advancements in AI will not ultimately fulfill our longings for a perfect world. While we are not able to comprehend or know the future, we do not fear what is to come because we know that God is omniscient and that nothing we create will be able to thwart His redemptive plan for creation or to supplant humanity as His image-bearers.

Genesis 1; Isaiah 42:8; Romans 1:20-21; 5:2; Ephesians 1:4-6; 2 Timothy 1:7-9; Revelation 5:9-10

Article 11: Public Policy

We affirm that the fundamental purposes of government are to protect human beings from harm, punish those who do evil, uphold civil liberties, and to commend those who do good. The public has a role in shaping and crafting policies concerning the use of AI in society, and these decisions should not be left to those who develop these technologies or to governments to set norms.

We deny that AI should be used by governments, corporations, or any entity to infringe upon God-given human rights. AI, even in a highly advanced state, should never be delegated the governing authority that has been granted by an all-sovereign God to human beings alone. 

Romans 13:1-7; Acts 10:35; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 10: War

We affirm that the use of AI in warfare should be governed by love of neighbor and the principles of just war. The use of AI may mitigate the loss of human life, provide greater protection of non-combatants, and inform better policymaking. Any lethal action conducted or substantially enabled by AI must employ 5 human oversight or review. All defense-related AI applications, such as underlying data and decision-making processes, must be subject to continual review by legitimate authorities. When these systems are deployed, human agents bear full moral responsibility for any actions taken by the system.

We deny that human agency or moral culpability in war can be delegated to AI. No nation or group has the right to use AI to carry out genocide, terrorism, torture, or other war crimes.

Genesis 4:10; Isaiah 1:16-17; Psalm 37:28; Matthew 5:44; 22:37-39; Romans 13:4

Article 9: Security

We affirm that AI has legitimate applications in policing, intelligence, surveillance, investigation, and other uses supporting the government’s responsibility to respect human rights, to protect and preserve human life, and to pursue justice in a flourishing society.

We deny that AI should be employed for safety and security applications in ways that seek to dehumanize, depersonalize, or harm our fellow human beings. We condemn the use of AI to suppress free expression or other basic human rights granted by God to all human beings.

Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 8: Data & Privacy

We affirm that privacy and personal property are intertwined individual rights and choices that should not be violated by governments, corporations, nation-states, and other groups, even in the pursuit of the common good. While God knows all things, it is neither wise nor obligatory to have every detail of one’s life open to society.

We deny the manipulative and coercive uses of data and AI in ways that are inconsistent with the love of God and love of neighbor. Data collection practices should conform to ethical guidelines that uphold the dignity of all people. We further deny that consent, even informed consent, although requisite, is the only necessary ethical standard for the collection, manipulation, or exploitation of personal data—individually or in the aggregate. AI should not be employed in ways that distort truth through the use of generative applications. Data should not be mishandled, misused, or abused for sinful purposes to reinforce bias, strengthen the powerful, or demean the weak.

Exodus 20:15, Psalm 147:5; Isaiah 40:13-14; Matthew 10:16 Galatians 6:2; Hebrews 4:12-13; 1 John 1:7 

Article 7: Work

We affirm that work is part of God’s plan for human beings participating in the cultivation and stewardship of creation. The divine pattern is one of labor and rest in healthy proportion to each other. Our view of work should not be confined to commercial activity; it must also include the many ways that human beings serve each other through their efforts. AI can be used in ways that aid our work or allow us to make fuller use of our gifts. The church has a Spirit-empowered responsibility to help care for those who lose jobs and to encourage individuals, communities, employers, and governments to find ways to invest in the development of human beings and continue making vocational contributions to our lives together.

We deny that human worth and dignity is reducible to an individual’s economic contributions to society alone. Humanity should not use AI and other technological innovations as a reason to move toward lives of pure leisure even if greater social wealth creates such possibilities.

Genesis 1:27; 2:5; 2:15; Isaiah 65:21-24; Romans 12:6-8; Ephesians 4:11-16

Article 6: Sexuality

We affirm the goodness of God’s design for human sexuality which prescribes the sexual union to be an exclusive relationship between a man and a woman in the lifelong covenant of marriage.

We deny that the pursuit of sexual pleasure is a justification for the development or use of AI, and we condemn the objectification of humans that results from employing AI for sexual purposes. AI should not intrude upon or substitute for the biblical expression of sexuality between a husband and wife according to God’s design for human marriage.

Genesis 1:26-29; 2:18-25; Matthew 5:27-30; 1 Thess 4:3-4

Article 5: Bias

We affirm that, as a tool created by humans, AI will be inherently subject to bias and that these biases must be accounted for, minimized, or removed through continual human oversight and discretion. AI should be designed and used in such ways that treat all human beings as having equal worth and dignity. AI should be utilized as a tool to identify and eliminate bias inherent in human decision-making.

We deny that AI should be designed or used in ways that violate the fundamental principle of human dignity for all people. Neither should AI be used in ways that reinforce or further any ideology or agenda, seeking to subjugate human autonomy under the power of the state.

Micah 6:8; John 13:34; Galatians 3:28-29; 5:13-14; Philippians 2:3-4; Romans 12:10

Article 4: Medicine

We affirm that AI-related advances in medical technologies are expressions of God’s common grace through and for people created in His image and that these advances will increase our capacity to provide enhanced medical diagnostics and therapeutic interventions as we seek to care for all people. These advances should be guided by basic principles of medical ethics, including beneficence, non-maleficence, autonomy, and justice, which are all consistent with the biblical principle of loving our neighbor.

We deny that death and disease—effects of the Fall—can ultimately be eradicated apart from Jesus Christ. Utilitarian applications regarding healthcare distribution should not override the dignity of human life. Fur- 3 thermore, we reject the materialist and consequentialist worldview that understands medical applications of AI as a means of improving, changing, or completing human beings.

Matthew 5:45; John 11:25-26; 1 Corinthians 15:55-57; Galatians 6:2; Philippians 2:4

Article 3: Relationship of AI & Humanity

We affirm the use of AI to inform and aid human reasoning and moral decision-making because it is a tool that excels at processing data and making determinations, which often mimics or exceeds human ability. While AI excels in data-based computation, technology is incapable of possessing the capacity for moral agency or responsibility.

We deny that humans can or should cede our moral accountability or responsibilities to any form of AI that will ever be created. Only humanity will be judged by God on the basis of our actions and that of the tools we create. While technology can be created with a moral use in view, it is not a moral agent. Humans alone bear the responsibility for moral decision making.

Romans 2:6-8; Galatians 5:19-21; 2 Peter 1:5-8; 1 John 2:1

Article 2: AI as Technology

We affirm that the development of AI is a demonstration of the unique creative abilities of human beings. When AI is employed in accordance with God’s moral will, it is an example of man’s obedience to the divine command to steward creation and to honor Him. We believe in innovation for the glory of God, the sake of human flourishing, and the love of neighbor. While we acknowledge the reality of the Fall and its consequences on human nature and human innovation, technology can be used in society to uphold human dignity. As a part of our God-given creative nature, human beings should develop and harness technology in ways that lead to greater flourishing and the alleviation of human suffering.

We deny that the use of AI is morally neutral. It is not worthy of man’s hope, worship, or love. Since the Lord Jesus alone can atone for sin and reconcile humanity to its Creator, technology such as AI cannot fulfill humanity’s ultimate needs. We further deny the goodness and benefit of any application of AI that devalues or degrades the dignity and worth of another human being. 

Genesis 2:25; Exodus 20:3; 31:1-11; Proverbs 16:4; Matthew 22:37-40; Romans 3:23

Article 1: Image of God

We affirm that God created each human being in His image with intrinsic and equal worth, dignity, and moral agency, distinct from all creation, and that humanity’s creativity is intended to reflect God’s creative pattern.

We deny that any part of creation, including any form of technology, should ever be used to usurp or subvert the dominion and stewardship which has been entrusted solely to humanity by God; nor should technology be assigned a level of human identity, worth, dignity, or moral agency.

Genesis 1:26-28; 5:1-2; Isaiah 43:6-7; Jeremiah 1:5; John 13:34; Colossians 1:16; 3:10; Ephesians 4:24