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Thursday, July 18, 2024
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Surrogacy is no solution for women in poverty

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Thirty-nine-year-old Nino Lamazoshvili is a single mother of five young children. Pregnant with her eighth child, This baby, like two she previously bore, “belongs” to another couple for whom she is acting as a surrogate mother. 

Sitting at her kitchen table, Nino stares into the distance and wistfully answers the interviewer’s question: “You have feelings for the baby as you do for your own child,” she says through tears. “Your body doesn’t know that it’s someone else’s … I thought I could handle all this easily, but it was very difficult for me.” 

Nino is one of the many faces of international, commercial surrogacy arrangements. Living in Tbilisi, Georgia, she fled a violent husband and still bears the scars of his attacks on her. Her pregnancies for upper middle-class couples from overseas are the only way she can provide for her five young children.  

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Watching the 2021 UK-produced documentary “Selling Surrogates: Wombs for hire in Georgia” by Unreported World had me in tears. Another woman, Alessia, is pregnant with her first surrogate child. Currently living in a domestic violence shelter, she explains that she works but only earns £2 a day. “£2 a day is nothing,” she says. For her, surrogacy is the difference between homelessness and a home for herself and her young children. One successful pregnancy will not be enough, though. She will need to have at least two surrogate children to be able to afford a place to stay. 

Georgian surrogates, like others in places like Ukraine and Kenya, are often poor women fleeing situations of domestic violence. The sparse regulation and comparatively low cost of surrogacy in these countries—about a third of the cost of commissioning a surrogate in the highly-regulated US baby market—makes it an attractive destination for couples looking for surrogate mothers. 

Commercial surrogacy is illegal in Australia. A couple wanting to have a baby with the assistance of a surrogate mother may pay for the mother’s medical expenses, travel and up to two months of time away from work but cannot make any other payment. This means that surrogate mothers are a scarcity in Australia.  

Surrogacy in Australia - The Catholic Weekly
Pregnant woman. Photo: Unsplash.

Victoria, Western Australia, South Australia, Tasmania and the Northern Territory allow Australians to enter into commercial surrogacy arrangements overseas, paying women like Nina and Alessia to bear their children. New South Wales, Queensland and the Australian Capital Territory prohibit it everywhere. 

There are about four babies born each week to overseas surrogates for Australian parents. In the world of “reproductive tourism,” Australia is the third largest user of commercial surrogacy services in the world and the highest per capita.  

NSW couples who flout the law to commission surrogates overseas talk about it openly in the media because—even though it is technically punishable with a fine of up to two-years imprisonment—there is no known case where a penalty has been imposed in NSW. 

Some people will argue that allowing women in poorer countries to be surrogates for wealthy, western couples is a good thing; that it is a “win-win” situation because it allows a couple to have a child and a woman to lift herself out of poverty. 

Others—myself included—believe that it is an abhorrent example of western paternalism to suggest that we will allow women in overseas countries to be treated in a way that would be criminal were they Australian—just because they are poor. 

People like me think that we can do better for women than to suggest they rent out their wombs in order to lift themselves out of a poverty that is often caused by domestic violence. 

I will write more about surrogacy in coming weeks, because the NSW government is considering changing our surrogacy laws to allow Australian singles or couples to enter into commercial surrogacy arrangements with women overseas. 

This review – which was not publicly announced but appeared on the government’s ‘have your say’ website – is being conducted by the Department of Communities and Justice and is in addition to the upcoming debate on Alex Greenwich’s so-called “equality bill,” which is also seeking to liberalise our surrogacy laws. 

According to the discussion paper, the NSW committed to review the state’s surrogacy laws and to “consult with LGBTIQA+ family organisations and advocacy groups to best understand the complexities of co-parenting arrangements and the challenges faced by families created through surrogacy.” 

Notably, there is nothing in there about consulting women who have been commissioned as surrogates. Maybe it’s because the ones most affected don’t have a vote, or a voice, here in NSW. 

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