Julie Bindel had a piece in The Guardian the other day about India’s surrogate mothers. It makes for pretty grim reading. Even if the surrogates are paid, and are paid more than they might otherwise have earned, there’s still a range of problems that the piece makes clear.
For one thing, the background of the surrogates is an important factor. Bindel writes that
[s]urrogates are paid about £4,500 to rent their wombs at this particular clinic, a huge amount in a country where, in 2012, average monthly earnings stood at $215.
It’s tempting, at first glance, to look at the opportunity to be a surrogate as a good thing in this context: these women are earning, by comparative standards, good money. But, of course, you have to keep in mind that the standard is comparative. If your choice is between doing something you wouldn’t otherwise do and penury, doing the thing you wouldn’t otherwise do looks like the better option. But “better option” doesn’t imply “good option”. So there’s more to be said there; more questions to be asked. Choosing x over y because y is more awful doesn’t mean that x isn’t. It might be a good thing; but it might not be. There might be economic – structural – coercion. Choosing to become a surrogate might be a symptom of there being no better alternative.
A related question is this: are the women really making a free choice in offering their reproductive labour even assuming that the terms are economically just? Possibly not:
I have heard several stories of women being forced or coerced into surrogacy by husbands or even pimps, and ask Mehta if she is aware of this happening.