How Surrogacy Harms Women and Children (2023)

By now many Americans have read a glowing news article about the latest celebrity to have a child via surrogacy or watched a human-interest piece about a woman carrying a child for a loved one. From New York, which just quietlylegalized commercial surrogacy,to California, which remains a hotspot for individuals and couples from across the country and around the world seeking such services, surrogacy is often positioned only as a positive good. No equivocation or mention of the harms it poses to women and children is even mentioned.

Avoiding the other side of the conversation does a disservice to us all, however. It’s time to talk about the dangers of surrogacy.

Just ask some of the children themselves. “There are a lot of days …where I feel adrift, kind of like a tumbleweed... It’s days like today where my heart hurts a bit more over a surrogacy agency, doctors, lawyers, and the rest of the adults involved not successfully making sure that this product they were creating would be o.k.,”writes“jkiam83” an anonymous surrogate-born woman on her blog. “Where are the resources and communities for us products of surrogacy? [I]s this really what is in the best interest of a child?” From the perspective of Brian, a surrogate-born man, it’s not; he writes, “It looks to me like I was bought and sold.”

What is surrogacy?

In a surrogacy arrangement, a woman carries a child for an individual or couple who is unable to do so themselves. Sometimes the child is genetically related to the commissioning parents, but often donor gametes are used, and the child is related to only one, or in some cases neither, of the commissioning parents. Sometimes the surrogate mother is genetically related to the child she carries, but often she is not. Some surrogacy arrangements are domestic, but many commissioning parents pursue international surrogacy arrangements, which adds an additional layer of logistical and legal difficulties.

Surrogacy is fraught with ethical and moral considerations. It is a process that can exploit vulnerable women. It carries significant health and psychological risks for the women whose wombs have been “rented,” the women whose eggs have been harvested to create an embryo, and the children who are born from these arrangements. All too often, the desires of adults—namely, the commissioning parent(s)—supersede the interests of children. Unfortunately, discussions of surrogacy in media—and culture more broadly—rarely focus on the latter.

>>>Casualties of Surrogacy: Women for Rent, Infants for Sale, LGBT Rights for Hijacking

(Video) Why Surrogacy is Harmful to Children - Katy Faust

Commodifying human life, risking health and safety

At the recent United Nations Commission on the Status of Women, The Heritage Foundation and the Center for Family and Human Rights drew attention to surrogacy and the dangers it poses to women at an event that highlighted several instances of women who had been trafficked, rendered infertile, or even died as a result of surrogacy. Michelle Reaves was one such surrogate mother from California. She lost her life last year while delivering a baby for someone else, leaving her own son and daughter motherless and her husband a widower.

By its very nature, surrogacy commodifies both a woman’s body as well as that of the child. The women targeted to become a surrogate by the multi-billion-dollar fertility industry are often wooed by the opportunity to make tens of thousands of dollars in exchange for renting their body. In some cases, a surrogate arrangement is altruistic—perhaps the surrogate mother may want to help a friend or family member who desperately wants a baby, and she does not profit financially from the exchange. Nevertheless, regardless of the circumstances or motivation, in a surrogacy arrangement a woman’s body is used as a conduit for a transaction that provides a baby for someone else—and the risks for both her, and the baby, are significant.

Whether a surrogate mother is compensated or not, serious concerns involving health risks to mothers and babies remain, and the rights of children must not be ignored.

Children who are born as the result of a surrogacy arrangement aremore likely to have low birth weights and are at an increased risk for stillbirth. When a woman carries a child conceived from an egg that is not her own—a traditional gestational surrogate arrangement—she is at a three-fold risk of developing hypertension and pre-eclampsia. Egg donors have spoken up about experiencing conditions such as loss of fertility, blood clots, kidney disease, premature menopause, and cancer, and the lack of data and studies on both short and long term health outcomes for egg donors makes true informed consent unattainable. While scientists do not fully understand the scope of these health considerations, it is clear that for both short and long-term outcomes, surrogacy is a frontier of unknowns; children, egg donors, and surrogate mothers may pay a physical or psychological price nobody yet fully knows or understands.

Children’s rights matter

Surrogacy gives little consideration to the rights of a resulting child, who in many cases will beintentionally separated from at least one biological parent, as well as potential half-siblings in cases where the commissioning parents are using egg or sperm donors in conjunction with the surrogacy arrangement. In cases of anonymous egg and/or sperm donation, children have been denied part, or in some cases all, of the details of their biological origins. “Genealogical bewilderment” and adjustment difficulties among surrogate-born children are well documented.

(Video) Harms of Surrogacy

Even in cases where a child is raised by his or her biological parents, children’s rights advocate Katy Faust notes that many surrogate-born children in these circumstances experience theprimal wound of losing their birth mother, an experience well-documented among adopted children. She argues that “surrogacy is, by its very nature, an injustice to the child. Birth is intended to be a continuation of the mother/child bond, not the moment at which the child suffers an intentional, primal wound. It’s the day when a baby should see the mother she already loves for the first time… not the last.”

Sometimes parallels are drawn between adoption and surrogacy. But this is a false comparison. In many cases surrogacy intentionally creates a situation in which a child will be denied his or her biological parent-child relationship. In every circumstance, the children of surrogacy arrangements are deliberately separated from the only mother they have ever known the moment they are born. Adoption, in contrast, responds to this separation rather than creates it.

Surrogacy knows no borders

International surrogacy arrangements can be even more complicated than domestic surrogacy arrangements because issues of citizenship and nation-specific determinations of legal parentage come into play. While there are no exact numbers available of how many children have been born from surrogacy worldwide, it is currently a global industry that is projected to grow to over $20 billion within the next few years.

As Professor David Smolin, a leading legal expert on surrogacy and author of The One Hundred Thousand Dollar Baby: The Ideological Roots of a New American Export, explains, “the United States is attractive to foreigners seeking surrogacy services because it is one of the few nations that offers stable legal systems explicitly supportive of commercial surrogacy.” While America is a popular destination for surrogacy for those who can afford it, some commissioning parents engage in international surrogacy arrangements in countries with even less regulation such as Ukraine and Russia, which raises additional concerns about maternal and postpartum health care for surrogate mothers and babies.

Heartbreaking stories at the height of the coronavirus pandemic exposed the uglier side of international surrogacy as travel restrictions separated surrogates and babies from commissioning parents across the globe.

With such international variation in the legal status of surrogacy, as well as the establishment of parentage and citizenship, commissioning parents and surrogate mothers can find themselves navigating a minefield of unanticipated practical and legal issues.

(Video) Adoption vs. Surrogacy - Why surrogacy is harmful to children

Internationally, women’s rights groups are split on the issue of surrogacy—much as they are in the debates over prostitution or “sex work”—about whether it exemplifies a woman’s autonomy and choice over what to do with her body or whether it constitutes commodification of a woman’s reproductive and life-giving capabilities.

Sadly, the international surrogacy market appears to have significant and growing overlap with human trafficking. Given the amount of money involved, traffickers stand to profit substantially from selling women and girls into surrogacy arrangements. As Dr. Sheela Saravanan, author of A Transnational Feminist View of Surrogacy Biomarkets in India, wrote in a submission to the UN Special Rapporteur on the sale and sexual exploitation of children, “The surrogacy trafficking trade used the same network that was used for domestic work and sex trade from the poor regions of India into urban areas. These unmarried girls [were] impregnated with embryos without their consent. Others were confined in homes and when some girls tried to run away, they [were] caught, brought back and beaten.”

How are governments responding?

The international community is currently debating a new protocol on international surrogacy arrangements. A group of experts—including one representing the U.S. Government, convened by the Hague Conference on Private International Law(HCCH)—is discussing how to address legal parentage, jurisdictional, and ethical questions about surrogacy, particularly from the perspective of protecting children.

In response to various injustices and exploitation, several countries have closed their borders to international surrogacy arrangements in recent years, including India and Thailand.

Regrettably, the current officialposition of the United Stateswith respect to international surrogacy is that surrogacy does not involve the exploitation or commodification of children. The U.S. signed and ratified the optional protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child that prohibits the sale of children, but holds that “surrogacy arrangements fall outside the scope” of the protocol.

The UN Special Rapporteur on the sale and sexual exploitation of children recommends that surrogacy agreements be regulated in order to prevent exploitation of women and sale of children. But she has not called for a global ban on surrogacy, although an increasing number of voices do, including hundreds of organizations from eighteen countries that signed an International Statement for a Global Ban on Womb Rental in 2018.

(Video) 7 Reasons Why Women Become Surrogates

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Within the United States, a patchwork of laws makes for a Wild West situation. Some states allow commercial surrogacy, some limit surrogacy to altruistic arrangements, and some do not recognize surrogacy contracts. But most states do not specifically address the issue. Proposals to more tightly regulate surrogacy, clarify contract legalities, or in the case of the state of New York, provide a full-fledged stamp of approval, don’t resolve the full scope of surrogacy’s challenges and harms.

Time to reframe the conversation

Beyond the debates in state houses and international bodies, it’s time to reframe the conversation. Infertility and other health conditions that render a person unable to have a child of his and her own can be a painful and isolating experience, and our society should have compassion for people who walk the road of infertility and loss. But we should approach the matter of surrogacy from an understanding that the desires of adults to raise a child do not supersede the rights and needs of children.

Listening to the women and children who have suffered deeply because of surrogacy is critically important. Organizations like Them Before Us and the Center for Bioethics and Cultureare leading the important work to elevate these voices and tell the stories of women and children that are too often ignored or dismissed.

Clarifying legalities and increasing regulations does not address fully the ethical problems with surrogacy and its harms to women and children. Opposition to surrogacy is not a simple left versus right issue, and people across the political spectrum can agree that American laws and society need to prioritize the dignity and health of women, the needs of children, and the fundamental human rights of all individuals when addressing the matter of surrogacy.

This piece originally appeared in The National Interest

(Video) The Risks & Harms of Commercial Surrogacy


What are the negative effects of surrogacy? ›

The primary health risks of surrogacy can be common pregnancy side effects, such as morning sickness, general discomfort, swelling and soreness. Additionally, there can be similar side effects to some of the required surrogacy medications. More serious health risks of surrogacy could include: Gestational diabetes.

How does surrogacy affect the child? ›

Does a Surrogate Mother Affect the Baby's DNA? In cases of gestational surrogacy, the baby will have the genetic makeup of its intended parents. The cells that seep through the placenta from the gestational carrier will not affect that in any way.

What are the dark side of surrogacy? ›

The Pregnancy

The surrogate mother is immediately considered a high-risk pregnancy, meaning she faces a higher likelihood of gestational diabetes, maternal hypertension, fetal growth restriction, pre-eclampsia, premature birth, and even death.

Why is surrogacy problematic? ›

Surrogacy exploits women.

Critics of surrogacy argue that intended parents who “use” surrogates are interested only in their reproductive ability; they see this practice as “womb-renting,” especially when the woman carrying the pregnancy is in a financially disadvantageous position to the intended parents.

Do surrogate babies go through trauma? ›

Separation from the Gestational Mother

Then there is the potential trauma for the newborn when separated from the surrogate, who is the gestational mother and sometimes also the genetic one. Newborns are handed over to commissioning parents upon birth.

What is unethical about surrogacy? ›

Surrogacy is often thought to be a 'treatment' option for the infertile or an alternative to adoption, and so to be celebrated in fulfilling people's desires to be parents. However, surrogacy also brings a wealth of more complex ethical issues around gender, labour, payment, exploitation and inequality.

Do surrogate children feel different? ›

Research on surrogacy shows that children experience no long term emotional or psychological harm from having been born through surrogacy, and even do better on average than children born through natural conception or other forms of assisted reproduction, if they grow up with openness and transparency.

Do surrogates get emotionally attached to the baby? ›

Just as a normal pregnancy, the mother does get attached to the child she's carrying in her womb. It is exactly the same for the surrogate mother, who is bound to bond with the child inside her, even if it's not hers. She cannot emotionally detach herself from the child she's carrying.

Do babies get traits from surrogate? ›

The baby will only share DNA with the person who has provided the sperm, and the person who has provided the egg. In most types of surrogacy (gestational), this will not include the surrogate mother. Therefore, under gestational surrogacy, the baby will not share the surrogate mother's DNA or inherit any of her traits.

Why do surrogate babies look different? ›

A baby born through surrogacy process will have a combination of physical characteristics (looks) of the egg and sperm provider since the baby's DNA only comes from the egg and sperm used to create the embryo, and not the surrogate.

Does surrogate baby carry the DNA of surrogate mother? ›

Some women worry that, even with an intended mother's or donor's egg, there could be a transfer of DNA. This is a totally natural assumption to make. However, the truth is that there is no transfer of DNA during pregnancy in a gestational surrogacy.

Are surrogate babies less healthy? ›

The vast majority of studies today show no major differences in emotional health of children born via surrogacy and those children conceived naturally.

Is surrogacy a sin in the Bible? ›

Instead, the Church teaches that children are a gift from God, only to be conceived and carried naturally by a married husband and wife. Any addition of a third party to this process is considered immoral.

Why surrogate motherhood is immoral? ›

Surrogate motherhood represents an objective failure to meet the obligations of maternal love, of conjugal fidelity and of responsible motherhood; it offends the dignity and the right of the child to be conceived, carried in the womb, brought into the world and brought up by his own parents; it sets up, to the ...

Why surrogacy is wrong in Islam? ›

Islamic ethics strictly advises to form the family solely on the basis of biological ties. Islam condemns surrogacy because the child will be deprived of information about his lineage and may result, unknowingly, in half-sibling marriage which is a dangerous consequence for a society.

Do surrogate mothers get depressed? ›

Postpartum depression is the most common problem that surrogate mothers can face after a surrogate birth. Signs and symptoms often include insomnia, fatigue, sadness, anxiety, irritability, and a sense of loss that lasts longer than a few days or weeks.

How does surrogacy violate human rights? ›

For instance, surrogacy can be likened to slavery, which Article 1 of the United Nations Slavery Convention defines as 'the status or condition of a person over whom any or all of the powers attaching to the right of ownership are exercised. '

What are the pros and cons of surrogacy? ›

The Pros and Cons of Being a Surrogate Mother
  • Surrogacy is a fulfilling experience. ...
  • Surrogate mothers are part of a strong support group. ...
  • Surrogates can experience being pregnant again. ...
  • Surrogates receive a generous compensation. ...
  • Surrogates are legally protected. ...
  • Surrogacy is physically and emotionally demanding.

What is the failure rate of surrogacy? ›

Fertility centers in the US have a surrogacy success rate of about 75% and that number can increase as high as 95% for a birth once the gestational carrier is pregnant. Success is seen in the growth rate of surrogacy.

Are surrogate mothers happy? ›

Surrogates were happy with their level of contact in the majority of arrangements and most were viewed as positive experiences. Few differences were found according to surrogacy type. The primary motivation given for multiple surrogacy arrangements was to help couples have a sibling for an existing child.

Do surrogates do skin to skin? ›

Bonding with a baby born through surrogacy doesn't start and end at birth or is achieved solely through skin-to-skin contact. Here are a few ways you can bond with your baby before he or she is even born: Talk to your baby in your surrogate's womb.

Does a surrogate baby look like both parents? ›

With a gestational surrogacy, the surrogate is not genetically related to the embryo they carry, and so the baby will not look like them, but will look like the intended parents.

Does surrogacy affect mother child bond? ›

How does surrogacy affect the child? Research suggests that attachment begins before a baby is born. So while the gestational carrier may not develop those bonds, the child will naturally feel an attachment to the only environment they've known.

Can a surrogate mother change her mind and keep the baby? ›

Can The Surrogate Mother Keep The Baby? Overall, the answer to this question is no. In pre-birth states, the surrogate mother is legally required to hand the baby over to the intended parents. That's why it's important that intended parents protect themselves with legal actions and documentation.

Who is a surrogate baby related to? ›

It's a woman who gets artificially inseminated with the father's sperm. They then carry the baby and deliver it for you and your partner to raise. A traditional surrogate is the baby's biological mother. That's because it was their egg that was fertilized by the father's sperm.

Can surrogate parents change their mind? ›

A traditional surrogate is the biological mother of her child, meaning she has parental rights and the power to change her mind and keep the baby. The intended parents would then need to go to court to gain custody of the child.

Why are so many celebrities using surrogates? ›

Celebrities use surrogacy for a variety of reasons, including being a same-sex couple, being a single parent, and struggling with infertility. These celebrities have attempted to shatter the hush surrounding surrogacy by sharing their stories, starting a conversation, and being upfront about it.

Why do so many celebrities choose surrogacy? ›

Pregnancy history: Previous pregnancy trauma from a first child is a common reason for choosing surrogacy. For example, Kim Kardashian experienced preeclampsia and placenta accreta with her first two pregnancies, making it unsafe for her to get pregnant again.

What is the most babies a surrogate has had? ›

Carole Horlock is the world's most prolific surrogate after having 13 babies for other people. But there is one child she is desperate to see again, the boy who turned out to be her own son by her husband Paul.

Who owns the baby of a surrogate mother? ›

Gestational Surrogacy - As a gestational surrogate, you would be considered the baby's mother, unless there is a contract involved stating the intended biological parents will be the legal parents of the child.

Who is the biological mother in surrogacy? ›

A gestational surrogate is called the “birth mother.” The biological mother, though, is still the woman whose egg was fertilized.

How much do you get paid for being a surrogate mother? ›

Typically, surrogates earn a base compensation of $30,000 - $40,000+. They can earn even more thanks to added benefits and payments. have health insurance.

Why is the church against surrogacy? ›

Artificial insemination, in vitro fertilization, and surrogate motherhood are immoral because they involve sexual acts that are procreative, but not unitive. And, rightful conception must respect the inseparability of the two meanings of the sexual act.

What religions are against surrogacy? ›

The Jewish religion also prefers a man and woman to use their own egg and sperm and raise the child created from them. Islam is divided, some view it as adultery because the surrogate is carrying a fertilized embryo inside of her that is not her husband's. The child then would be considered illegitimate.

Which holy mother was conceived without sin? ›

The Immaculate Conception is the belief that the Virgin Mary was free of original sin from the moment of her conception. It is one of the four Marian dogmas of the Catholic Church. Debated by medieval theologians, it was not defined as a dogma until 1854, by Pope Pius IX in the papal bull Ineffabilis Deus.

What is one argument against using a surrogate mother? ›

In many cases surrogacy intentionally creates a situation in which a child will be denied his or her biological parent-child relationship. In every circumstance, the children of surrogacy arrangements are deliberately separated from the only mother they have ever known the moment they are born.

Why is surrogacy illegal in Europe? ›

“European states generally prohibit surrogacy as they recognize that it violates the dignity of the child and the surrogate mother. The genetic and emotional implications of surrogacy for children, parents, and future generations pose a threat towards the family which is the core unit of our society.

Why is surrogacy illegal in most countries? ›

In addition to being exploitative, most countries recognize surrogacy as baby-selling or human trafficking, which is universally illegal. The US is one of only nine countries that legalizes surrogate pre-birth contracts.

Why is surrogacy illegal in Dubai? ›

Under Islamic Law, some Muslims claim that surrogate motherhood is not permitted because it is akin to Zina (adultery), which is prohibited in the Muslim religion. In gestational surrogacy, the surrogate carries the fertilized eggs of someone who is not her legal husband.

What does the Quran say about embryos? ›

He makes you in the wombs of your mothers in stages, one after another, in three veils of darkness..” This statement is from Sura 39:6.

Does surrogate mother affect DNA? ›

Does a surrogate mother transfer DNA to the baby? Some women worry that, even with an intended mother's or donor's egg, there could be a transfer of DNA. This is a totally natural assumption to make. However, the truth is that there is no transfer of DNA during pregnancy in a gestational surrogacy.

Do surrogate mother share blood with the baby? ›

Gestational surrogates who you (as an intended parent) match with outside of your family are not “blood” relatives to the babies they carry — they have no biological connection to your child.

What does the Bible say about surrogacy? ›

Biblical Times

The first mention of surrogacy can be found in “The Book of Genesis” in the story of Sarah and Abraham. Sarah and Abraham were married but could not conceive a child of their own, so Sarah turned to her servant Hagar to be the mother of Abraham's child.

What is the point of being a surrogate? ›

The Gift of Life

Surrogates are given the chance to give a gift that no one else can. Intended parents turn to surrogacy because they need help conceiving a child. You're giving loving people the chance to start a family of their own when they're incapable of doing so themselves.

Is a surrogate baby still biologically yours? ›

A gestational surrogate is not biologically related to the child they will carry. The embryo is created via in vitro fertilization (IVF) with the egg and sperm of the intended parents or chosen donors, and is then transferred to the surrogate.

Do surrogates ever want to keep the baby? ›

In commercial surrogacy arrangements in the US, the chances of the surrogate keeping the baby are 5 times less likely than the intended parents refusing to take the baby. Think that over for a moment. Intended parents are more likely to refuse to take the baby than a surrogate is likely to want to keep it.

Are surrogate babies related to both parents? ›

Does a surrogate mother share her DNA with the baby? This is a fairly common question and the answer is no. In a compensated surrogacy arrangement with a gestational carrier, the baby's DNA comes from the intended mother's egg, or from an egg donor, and from the intended father's sperm, or from a sperm donor.

How much does surrogacy cost USA? ›

The price of US surrogacy ranges from $110,000 to $170,000 for most families. This cost includes agency fees, surrogate compensation and expenses, legal fees, and medical costs at a fertility clinic. It's also important to think about which US state you want to pursue surrogacy in.

How often do surrogates miscarry? ›

Failed Transfers and Miscarriages in Surrogacy are Fortunately Rare. Miscarriages occur in about 1 in 4 recognized pregnancies. But, surrogacy professionals take certain steps to reduce those odds as much as possible with a gestational carrier.

How much does the average surrogate make per pregnancy? ›

In the world of surrogacy, base pays range from $30,000 to $55,000 — plus reimbursement for additional expenses — depending on the specific details of your surrogacy journey.

Is 40 too old to be a surrogate mother? ›

The American Society for Reproductive Medicine recommends that surrogate be between the ages of 21 and 45, with surrogates over 45 being acceptable as long as all parties are “informed about the potential risks of pregnancy with advancing maternal age.”


1. Damaged Babies & Broken Hearts: Ukraine's commercial surrogacy industry | Foreign Correspondent
(ABC News In-depth)
2. Ethics of Surrogacy | with Lexi
(Benjamin A Boyce)
3. Selling surrogates: wombs for hire in Georgia | Unreported World
(Unreported World)
4. IVF, Surrogacy, and Infertility: A Thoughtful Christian Approach
(Dr. Sean McDowell)
5. FAMILY MATTERS: What you need to know about surrogacy
6. Director’s Statement on “Breeder’s: A Subclass of Women?”
(The Center for Bioethics and Culture Network)


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