Nazneen Mehta is a second-year law student at Columbia Law School and is writing a Note on the international market in surrogacy services – particularly between relatively affluent “intended parents” in the US and poor female surrogates in India. Her Note will examine the ways in which this market might better be regulated by law in order to protect the rights and interests of the surrogates in India. Her research has taken her to Mumbai, India over the winter break to better understand the conditions under which the surrogates are working. What follows are her initial reflections on this research, cross posted from the Columbia Law School Gender & Sexuality Law Program Blog:
Alex Kuczynski’s story,”Her Body, My Baby,”about her experience bonding with the woman who became her son’s surrogate mother portends the rise of what Noa Ben-Asher on this blog suggested are”new and surprising extra-legal familial structures.”
But, maybe not. In a largely obscure industry that is becoming increasingly transnational, Kuczynski’s story could be the outlier.
Surrogacy has quietly spread beyond national borders, creating a multi-million dollar global industry that joins together women like Kuczynski with poor women in developing nations. But unlike Kuczynski and her surrogate, Cathy Hilling (with whom she was on a first-name basis), the surrogates in these developing nations will never share tuna sandwiches or host backyard barbeques with the”intended parents.”
In fact, very few surrogates in developing nations will meet the parents for whom they are carrying a child. As a doctor at an international surrogacy clinic in Mumbai, India, related to me, the clinic discourages intended parents from meeting the woman the center has chosen to be the surrogate. The doctor explained that the women come from the ranks of India’s poor, and if they”see foreigners,”the women may try to get more money or resources out of the intended parents. There is no”wink and nod”custom, and the reality of class division lie exposed between the intended parents and the surrogate.
The selection process further removes intended parents from knowing the individual women who become their surrogates. Kuczynski pored over the profiles of potential surrogates, reading each woman’s personal story and employment demands. International surrogacy agreements, however, are largely facilitated by surrogacy clinics operating in developing nations. The clinics recruit a pool of poor women to become surrogates and then assign the women to intended parents. There are no personal stories about the women’s lives or ambitions to distinguish one from another; women need only pass the clinics’ health and psychological screening to become a surrogate. (The selection process implicates the issues of race and class discussed by Khiara Bridges on this blog, and suggests that her analysis of Black women in the U.S. could extend to poor women of color in developing nations).
I make these comparisons between international surrogacy and Kuczynski’s story not to push normative claims about either type of surrogacy agreement. Rather, I contrast the two models to bring international surrogacy into the discussion. And to suggest that in the battle between the legal frameworks mentioned by Ben-Asher:the surrogate as hired outsider vs. surrogate as extended family member:the former may be pulling ahead.