Guest Post: Wombs for Hire – A Christian Perspective
Today’s guest writer has chosen anonymity and therefore we won’t introduce her. She will, however, be available to receive any feedback or any questions channeled through the comments section.
For years now, the Kenyan church has been on the front-line in the fight against legalizing abortion – a noble fight for human life, whose victory is far from being achieved. It is time, however, that other human-life conversations get the energy and resources that have gone into fighting the legalization of abortions. One such conversation is about assisted reproduction.
The Reproductive Health Bill 2019 tabled in the Kenyan Senate touches on contraceptives and their availability, assisted reproduction, safe motherhood, termination of pregnancy (abortion), and the reproductive health of adolescents. Regarding assisted reproduction, the bill allows for surrogacy wherein the surrogate (woman carrying a child for another) is only compensated for medical expenses incurred, and loss of wages during the pregnancy. When the surrogate mother receives compensation beyond the reimbursement of medical and other reasonable expenses, then the arrangement is called commercial surrogacy. Should she not receive any reimbursement except for medical expenses, then it is referred to as altruistic surrogacy.
Types of surrogacy
There are two main types of surrogacy, traditional surrogacy, and gestational surrogacy. In the former, the surrogate mother is impregnated naturally or artificially, but the resulting child is genetically related to the surrogate mother. A traditional surrogate is the baby’s biological mother since the child was conceived from the union of her egg and the father’s sperm.
As for gestational surrogacy, the pregnancy results from the transfer of an embryo created by in-vitro fertilization (IVF), so the resulting child is genetically unrelated to the surrogate. Gestational surrogate mothers are also called gestational carriers.
While the bill leaves room for the commissioning parents to choose between traditional and gestational surrogacy, it seems to allow for the commercialization of surrogacy.
What the Kenyan church stands for
Kenyan clergy have raised concerns about the Reproductive Health Bill’s clause on termination of pregnancy, with little to nothing said about assisted reproduction i.e. surrogacy. Why should surrogacy be a concern for the church given the rising cases of infertility globally? Shouldn’t the church, as a pro-life organization, care primarily about more children being born despite the ‘how’? Isn’t surrogacy pro-life? How is the church to think about the ‘wombs for hire’ industry?
The church believes that life begins at conception; that is when the male and female gamete fuse. Thus, the embryo formed is a human being, not a mass of cells, and a bearer of God’s image (Job 31:15, Psalm 139:13-14, Matthew 1:20). The church affirms that the intentional ending of the life of an embryo is murder, and thus abortion is murder. The church also believes that children are a blessing from God (Psalm 127:3).
Although children are a gift from God, they are not a right. Some women may have to say like Sarah, “…Behold now, the LORD has prevented me from bearing children…“(Genesis 16:2), bearing the pangs of infertility. The pain of infertility is not to be downplayed. It has been placed second from the pain of cancer in terms of its intensity. It is the responsibility of the church to empathize with and provide emotional and psycho-social support to couples going through infertility. In the trenches of infertility, surrogacy seems the answer to prayer, as it allows the commissioning parents to be part of the pregnancy journey from the start. Yet, surrogacy creates many problematic areas that the church should steer away from.
Ethical issues surrounding surrogacy
Firstly, the process of surrogacy heavily relies on IVF, where the union of the male and female gametes is done in a laboratory and the embryos implanted in the surrogate. Due to the high failure rate of IVF, multiple embryos are usually implanted, with the health care practitioners later selectively removing some embryos in order to give the chance for one or two children to grow to full term. In as much as some may argue that this is not abortion, there is no other definitive term for such a selection of human beings.
Surrogacy borders on eugenics, where commissioning parents may choose to terminate the pregnancy if it is medically proven that the child might have a quality-of-life-altering abnormality. As the proposed bill also allows for abortion in situations where the mother’s life is not threatened, then commissioning parents may require abortions when the child being carried is at risk of such an abnormality.
Even when assisted reproduction does not rely on IVF, as in the case of traditional surrogacy, issues still abound. Traditional surrogacy can be argued to be immoral and even adulterous as it involves the surrogate mother being inseminated with the commissioning father’s sperm. Additionally, the surrogate mother also happens to be the biological and genetic mother of the child. Naturally, the bond between the mother and the child is meant to be strong. So much so that the Bible quotes it (Isaiah 49:15) when comparing the Lord’s steadfast faithfulness to His people. The mother bonds with the child, and the child bonds with the mother; especially before birth. For some women, bonding with the pre-born child may be hard, but in the case of surrogacy, the child is not unwanted yet the mother has to relinquish the right to bond with the child further. While this is unnatural, it also causes psychological harm to the newly born baby.
Furthering the LGBTQ+ Agenda
Furthermore, the bill is vague on various points; “Every person has a right to assisted reproduction” is a seemingly tame statement. However, with the LGBTQ+ pushing for the legalization of gay marriages in Kenya, then surrogacy fits squarely into the plan of changing the fabric of the family. Since the church believes that a family is comprised of a male father and a female mother who produce children, a family comprised of homosexual parents who are enabled to have children through surrogacy is a breakdown, and the church should be raising red-flags already. Will a healthcare provider refuse a gay couple the chance to have a baby carried by another consenting woman if the constitution passes that every person can access the assisted reproduction services? Furthermore, in the off chance that the “commissioning parent/s” (person requiring assistance in reproduction) is a pedophile or a sex trafficker, how is the healthcare provider or surrogate to know? What is to happen to the child? “14. (1) A party may enter into a surrogate parenthood agreement only if— The commissioning parent or commissioning parents, as the case may be,– (iii) is in all respects suitable to accept the parenthood of the child that is to be conceived;” is not promising when it comes to the protection of the child to be born, should the commissioning parent/s be of ulterior motives.
The broadness of the phrase, “every person” allows for the commercialization of the service. Women from lower socio-economic statuses are prone to be lured by the promise of wealth into giving their wombs to hire. This is notwithstanding the negative effects that surrogacy has on the female body. Some women may have to live with aftereffects of complications arising from the surrogate pregnancy journey that they were not adequately prepared for; physically, psychologically, or financially. The complications arise from the use of synthetic hormones and other medications to mimic the ones the female body naturally produces that allow for conception, pregnancy and fetal growth. One such drug is Lupron®.
The side effects of Lupron® are many and include, but are not limited to:
- hot flashes
- tachycardia (elevated heart rate)
- hypotension (low blood pressure)
- constant gnawing/joint pain
- autoimmune diseases
- memory loss
- hematuria (blood in urine)
- blood disorders
Many women are continuing to suffer the side effects long after taking their last dose even though the pharmaceutical company states that the side effects should go away within 3-6 months.
Finally, neither of the parties needs to be Kenyan, but only have to make the agreement within the borders of Kenya. Gloria Steinem, on a similar issue in New York, says that this might lead to higher rates of human trafficking, with women and girls being trafficked into New York for the purpose of being surrogates. While there are glaring differences in the Kenyan and New York bill, might this be a loophole that this bill does not fully address? We have been looking at more cases of missing persons, will the number go higher – and not just in Kenya but our neighboring countries as well, if the government allows for surrogacy between consenting parties that are not citizens of Kenya?
The wombs-for-hire and children-for-sale industry in different countries should inform our decisions as Kenyans. Ukraine, for example, had a crisis in the middle of the pandemic where hundreds of children were left stranded in hospital as they were not allowed to bond with their birth mothers (surrogates) and yet the travel restrictions in place would not allow their commissioning parents to pick them. The egregious situation presented the ugliness that is probable in surrogacy. Newly born children need to bond with their parents, being institutionalized and cared for by stretched out workers is as unnatural as it gets.
There is a lot of information on what happens to women after surrogacy, and the risks it carries, but it is not talked about much in our country. Still, it is the mandate of the church, and church members to analyze these scenarios and fight for vulnerable women and little God-image-bearers; even as embryonic human beings. It is time to have this conversation as the Kenyan church.