When presidential hopeful Mitt Romney’s eldest son, Tagg Romney, 42, and his wife, Jen, 39, posted a birth announcement for healthy, happy twin boys on their Facebook page, they demonstrated how mainstream in vitro fertilization births have become. They gave “a special thanks” to their “gestational surrogate,” who “made this possible” for them.
The couple have six children; Politico reports that though there was no surrogate involved in the elder three children’s births, the couple used the same surrogate for their 2-year-old son.
E! anchor Giuliana Rancic just announced that after years of trying to have a child, she and her husband are expecting — thanks to a gestational surrogate. Kathleen Sloan of the National Organization for Women complains that when mainstream media cover surrogacy births, “it’s always from the angle of the miracle of life and not the use of some other women’s eggs or the rental of another women’s womb. They don’t look at the health risks. They don’t look at the exploitation. It’s extremely one-sided and really a very classist treatment of the issue.”
Though gestational surrogates choose to carry another woman’s child, Jennifer Lahl of the Bay Area’s Center for Bioethics and Culture argues that these arrangements frequently involve rich women “exploiting” poor women in countries such as India or less affluent women in the United States. American women can be drawn into a bad choice by the chance to earn $20,000 to $50,000 while, as one website advertises, helping “loving parents fulfill a dream.”
Americans were quick to dump on the “octomom” because the single mother of six gave birth to octuplets when she had no husband and no visible means of support. But in the course of her research, Lahl has found her share of train wrecks in families that fall between the Romneys and the “octomom.” “There are nice people who go into these contract arrangements and then everything falls apart.”
“Our womb isn’t an Easy-Bake oven,” Lahl noted. “It isn’t something that we loan out.” Yet surrogate mothers are treated like an appliance. They often are pumped full of fertility drugs. The drugs facilitate multiple pregnancies, which present health risks to women. If they bond with a baby, it doesn’t matter; under contract, they are expected to surrender him or her.
I contacted the Romney campaign to ask the candidate’s position on gestational surrogacy. Team Romney’s response: the silent treatment. His son and daughter-in-law wrote, “Life truly is a miracle, and we feel so blessed to be able to celebrate the arrival of these precious boys into our family.”
Besides, Romney is not responsible for the reproductive choices of his adult sons and daughters-in-law.
I should add that the gestational surrogate apparently chose twice to deliver Romney progeny.
Is this the type of country America wants to be? Every year, as IVF becomes more common, Sloan sees more women getting drawn into what she calls the “fertility-industrial complex.” Affluent couples buy younger women’s eggs or rent their wombs — and put their bodies, their health and their fertility at risk. It’s not always a win-win.
Note: My husband, Wesley J. Smith, is a consultant for the Center for Bioethics and Culture.
Debra J. Saunders is a San Francisco Chronicle columnist. Her email address is email@example.com.