Democrats hype themselves as friends of workers and of labor. But there’s one case—in Michigan of all places!—where they seem ready to favor labor at below minimum-wage rules. In fact, they have no labor rules at all.
I’m talking about the labor connected with having a baby.
State Rep. Samantha Steckloff (D-19th District) is pushing a package of bills through the state legislature to bring commercial surrogacy to the Great Lakes State. Her legislation would redefine parenthood in ways that would reduce the term only to the person actually commissioning a child. Genetic parenthood (via gametes) wouldn’t count. Neither would bearing and delivering the child. Under Steckloff’s “reform,” only the person buying the baby gets to be called “parent.”
By the way, in case you have any antiquarian gender binary notions in your head, the terms “mother” and “father” are now replaced by “parent one” and “parent two,” even though the new law would only require one “parent.”
Although you hear a lot today about “equity” and “equality,” neither concept applies here. There is one—and only one—woman who might actually count: the woman (and it doesn’t necessarily have to be a woman) paying for delivery of the goods. She’s the “parent.”
Now biology requires at least one other woman, maybe two, to be involved. There had to be a woman who provided an ovum for fertilization. Granted, she could also be the “intended parent” but need not be.
Now, whether you like it or not, that woman has at least as strong a connection with this child as the “intended” parent. The child, after all, will bear half her genetic code for the rest of the child’s life. Whatever assets or debits come to people genetically will come from that woman. Whatever traits or hereditary illnesses the child inherits will also come from her. If that woman has any other children, they will be at least half-siblings to the commissioned child.
And, under Steckloff’s “reform,” none of that will matter. By some of the magic legislative wand, all that will suddenly disappear. (Of course, the child’s future medical history will not be altered thanks to Lansing’s legislative fiat.) Those siblings will disappear. One’s genes and ancestry: poof! Gone! Replaced by the storyline the “intended parent” wants to provide.
OK, the genetic mother is erased. What about the gestational mother? Ah, that’s a harder rub. Genetics leaves its permanent trace, but advocates of surrogacy basically reduce the gestational mother to an incubator, pretending that the intimate physical mother-child bonding that occurs over nine months doesn’t really matter, is purely accidental. We just haven’t figured out how to keep growing that fertilized ovum in a petri dish past the implantation stage. Maybe someday. Maybe we can even record a maternal heartbeat, caress, and scent for the developing embryo. Sign the contract, provide the product by a set delivery date.
Now, let’s examine the financial realities. Affluent women generally don’t sign up to be surrogates: poorer women do. Sure, some claim to act altruistically to “help a woman who can’t bear a child,” but there’s a difference between “helping” somebody cross the street and putting one’s body at another’s disposal 24/7 for 40 weeks to bear, and give away, a baby. So, let’s admit there is almost always an economic disparity between the “intended” mother and the gestational mother (who, under Steckloff’s bill, loses the appellation “mother”).
That’s why there has always been a flourishing overseas surrogacy market: Labor costs are cheaper overseas. What’s generally happened, though, is that foreign countries have closed their doors to surrogacy as they have recognized the exploitation of their female citizens. That started first in Asia, then Big Fertility moved to Ukraine. The latter being otherwise preoccupied, we need to find the next foreign baby manufacturing country.
Let’s also consider the economics. Pregnancy typically lasts nine months. Assuming an average of 30 days per month, that’s 270 days; 270 days x 24 hours/day = 6,480 hours.
Currently, paid surrogates in the United States receive $60-70,000 for their “services.” Sometimes that’s separate from medical expenses, sometimes not: As surrogacy critic Jennifer Lahl has observed, America is the “Wild West” when it comes to artificial reproduction.
Now, let’s break that down: $60,000 for 6,480 hours of work amounts to $9.26/hour. Michigan’s minimum wage in 2024 will be $10.33. So, the typical surrogate is underpaid by $6,933.60, not including overtime, weekends, holidays, etc.
Why aren’t we seeing President Joe Biden marching in Lansing, demanding better wages from Big Fertility for laboring women? Can’t those rich women (and the doctors and hospitals behind Big Fertility) cough up a better compensation package?
At this point, some readers may be getting queasy. I hope so. Commercial surrogacy necessarily commodifies a human process—bringing another person into the world—by reducing it into a business transaction. And, if you feel uneasy about talking about “salaries and benefits” for carrying a baby, then maybe we ought to ask whether we should be allowing paid baby manufacture in the first place.
Steckloff’s legislative package, which deconstructs “parenthood” in Michigan, says nothing about this side of the baby-making business. That’s not surprising because changes pushed in the name of the sexual revolution generally don’t like extensive debate. Consider that the Michigan House moved this package from introduction to passage in 16 days, pushing it through by a two-vote margin, and hopes to usher it with similar rapid-fire stealth through the state Senate.
Bills such as HB5207 are presented as either helping “women who want to be mothers to become them” or, today, enhancing “reproductive choice.” They’re very good for those who can afford to buy a baby. Whether they’re any good for those persons necessary to make that baby, much less the baby himself, is not something that should be determined by a legislature in just over two weeks.
P.S.: Since writing this essay, Anna Smajdor’s 2022 article in the journal Theoretical Medicine and Bioethics has been brought to my attention. Smajdor, of the University of Oslo, Norway, proposes “whole body gestational donation.” Just as some people donate cadavers for medical school research, Smajdor proposes that the bodies of women in futile medical conditions might be donated for medical sustainment as surrogates. While there have been cases of pregnant women who, after death, have been sustained on ventilators until their unborn children were viable and deliverable, treating a woman who is “dead enough” (to borrow Dr. George Mychaskiw’s term from his book, Follow the Science) as a living incubator would be daunting in terms of medical technology and dastardly in terms of medical ethics. It could, however, cut surrogacy labor costs even further—and who’s to stand in the way of “medical progress” when Big Fertility’s bucks are on the table?