Pope Francis made a major policy address on Monday calling for a universal ban on surrogacy, saying the practice is “deplorable” and “despicable” as it treats children like commodities and exploits poor women.
Pontiff Condemns Surrogacy in Annual “State of the World” Speech
In his annual speech to diplomats accredited to the Holy See, Pope Francis denounced commercial surrogacy arrangements where the child is treated “as a commodity, to be bought and sold, or trafficked.”
“That is an affront to human dignity and calls into question what it even means to be parents and children to each other,” the pope said. He urged government leaders and lawmakers to adopt legislation aimed at prohibiting surrogacy on a global scale.
Several countries already outlaw or restrict the practice, including France, Germany, Italy, Spain and some US states. The pope echoed the stance of Catholic teaching that says surrogacy violates the sacred bond between parents and children in the eyes of God.
Surrogacy Industry Worth Billions, Targets Poor Women
The global surrogacy industry is estimated to be worth around $30 billion, with much of it centered in developing countries like India and Ukraine where regulations are weak and poverty pushes women to become surrogates.
“These women’s bodies are monetized and commercialized. Surrogacy torments poor women, puts life in the hands of brokers and billionaires, and causes innocent children to be trafficked,” said prominent Catholic thinker Mary Hasson in an opinion article supporting the pope’s call for an outright ban.
|Countries Where Commercial Surrogacy is Legal
|Annual Value of Surrogacy Industry
|Average Surrogate Fee Paid
|$25,000 – $35,000
|$10,000 – $15,000
|$7,000 – $15,000
|$20,000 – $30,000
(Source: Various news reports)
Low-income women can earn up to 10 times their annual income by becoming a surrogate, which often appeals to those facing financial desperation. However, these arrangements are largely unregulated, putting immense physical and emotional strain on the women.
Pope Decries Effects on Vulnerable Children
In his speech at the Vatican, the pope emphasized the helplessness of children born from commercial surrogacy services which are solely intended for economic gain rather than creating loving families.
“It is deplorable that children come into the world this way, as if they were products for sale, creations of technology rather than gifts of conjugal love,” Pope Francis stated.
The pontiff suggested profit-seeking surrogacy brokers convince intended parents they have an innate “right to a child,” while treating surrogate mothers and the children themselves as tradable goods.
Previous Calls for Surrogacy Reform Get Renewed Backing
While Pope Francis has previously commented on the immorality of using surrogates, his latest statements represented the Catholic church’s strongest condemnation of the practice thus far.
The pope’s sentiments echoed bishops from Asian and European churches who have warned surrogacy constitutes the buying and selling of children, women’s exploitation, the violation of the dignity of human life as well as marriage and family values.
In light of the pope’s speech, anti-surrogacy groups gained confidence that renewed support from the papacy and global church leaders could soon spur restrictive legislation worldwide.
“When the pope speaks with such clarity, the ripple effects touch hearts, minds, policies and laws around the globe. His voice carries weight and legitimacy on such a fundamental issue,” said attorney Nikolas Nikas, President of Bioethics Defense Fund, an influential Catholic pro-life organization.
Immediate Backlash to Ban Calls Face Uphill Battle
Advocacy groups supporting surrogacy arrangements and services reacted strongly to the pope’s statements, questioning the Vatican’s moral authority and knowledge of assisted reproductive technology.
The non-profit organization Men Having Babies, which provides advice and financial guidance to gay men pursing surrogacy, called the proposed ban “reckless, ignorant and an attack on people’s civil rights.”
Outspoken supporters of commercial surrogacy stressed bans take away people’s freedoms and negatively impact the global fertility market which generates significant economic activity.
“There are no demonstrations on the streets calling for a ban on surrogacy. Only an elite few think they can make this deeply personal decision on someone else’s behalf,” said New York State Senator Brad Hoylman on social media, in response to Pope Francis’ speech.
Hoylman and his husband became fathers in 2020 through surrogacy in California. They hope to deter similar proposals from restricting access to surrogacy services.
Reproductive rights groups are determined to counteract attempts of sweeping bans by arguing surrogacy gives people like same-sex couples and infertile women pathways to parenthood which were impossible in the past.
What Next in Push Against Surrogacy Industry
It remains contentious if Pope Francis urging countries to prohibit commercial surrogacy contracts can realistically gain momentum when the ethical complexities spark such conflicting viewpoints internationally.
Some states such as Louisiana recently introduced bills aiming to completely prohibit surrogacy agreements. However similar bills have repeatedly failed to pass at the committee stage due to staunch opposition.
Activists believe focused efforts to implement industry regulations, prevent exploitation of young women, limit astronomical fees and enforce screening of wealthy commissioning parents represent more practical steps to reform unethical practices underpinning the multi-billion dollar surrogacy business.
“Only by the whole world pulling together on this can we outlaw this despicable evil,” said Pope Francis in closing his speech, indicating the Vatican will prioritize collaborating with lawmakers worldwide to enact prohibitive policies targeting commercial surrogacy operations.
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