What the Surrogacy Debate can learn from the Sex Workers’ Movement- Part 1

In India, a fiery debate regarding surrogacy illustrates how we, including those in the women’s movement, have still to resolve a number of uncomfortable questions when it comes to women’s choice and autonomy.

As a premier site for medical tourism, India has increasingly attracted couples facing fertility challenges.  In addition to offering services for a fraction of surrogacy services in Western countries, India’s largely unregulated commercial medical system presents few legislative or administrative hurdles to surrogacy.

Since 2007, popular Indian culture has had a strange obsession with the topic of surrogacy, with newspaper articles, radio and blazing national dialogues. The 2008 case of Baby Manji, or “Baby M”—born to a surrogate mother using a Japanese man’s sperm and an egg from an unknown donor—resulted in fierce legal battles and was covered extensively by the media.   In this case, the larger question of the citizenship of the child loomed uncomfortably as traditional Indian culture faced a head-on collision with the ethical complexities raised by global capitalism.

At the policy level, the Indian Council of Medical Research has been calling for pro- market and consumer- friendly guidelines that give surrogates virtually no rights. Meanwhile, the women’s movement and the Ministry of Women and Child Development have fought back with draft legislation that give more expansive rights to surrogates regarding consent, information, health rights and price of services.

The number of women in India opting to be surrogate mothers remains relatively small—100 to 150—especially when compared with  the number of women in India who are estimated to die of childbirth. Then why is surrogacy the topic of the hour? One can only surmise that the surrogacy issue brings us deeper cultural conflicts within the modern Indian psyche.

Khushbu Srivastava is the Program Officer for Asia at the International Women’s Health Coalition. Read her bio here.



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