Gov. Bobby Jindal announced recently that he vetoed the Louisiana Legislature’s bill legalizing surrogacy in the state. The bill would have allowed couples to contract with a third party to become pregnant with a child conceived through in vitro fertilization and carry that child to term. We think the governor was right to put the brakes on this bill.
One of us is a Roman Catholic and served on President George W. Bush’s Council on Bioethics. The other is an evangelical Protestant who has spent the past decade calling Christians to our responsibility to adopt children and care for orphans. We believe the Legislature’s motives were good. We understand the pain of infertility, and we rejoice when families are formed.
Moreover, there is no question that this bill is an improvement over the legislation passed last year (and also vetoed by Jindal). Last year’s bill would have legalized the commercial trading of women’s wombs in a way that, as bioethicists warned, would have turned Louisiana into the North American equivalent of India, where right now, low-income women are exploited for profit so that they may carry children for wealthy persons around the world. This bill seeks to regulate surrogacy, to limit the profit motive for surrogacy and to restrict surrogacy to married couples. Even so, this bill is still wrong for children and wrong for women.
Gestational surrogacy is not the same as adoption. In adoption, a child recognizes both a set of birth parents (even if he or she does not know who they are) and a mother andfather who became such through the loving act of adoption. In adoption, there is some reason why the birth parents cannot care for the child who is born to them. Perhaps it’s a lack of extended family support, an inability to financially support the child or perhaps it’s the death of the parents. The placing of a child for adoption is the response to a situation, a heroic response that we applaud and want to see happen more.
By contrast, surrogacy isn’t responding to a child in need. Surrogacy is creating a situation from the start in which a child has three parents. This does not serve the interests of the child at all; it is responding to the desires or felt needs of the adults involved. In doing that, surrogacy severs procreation from the one-flesh union of a man and a woman in marriage. Surrogacy is built upon and further empowers an in vitro fertilization industry that routinely creates “spare” embryos — new human beings whose dignity we should honor and whose right to life all of us should respect — who are destined either to be discarded and destroyed or locked away indefinitely in cryopreservation. Surrogacy requires a woman to become pregnant with a child who is biologically unrelated to her, a situation unknown in human history and with unknown psychological and cultural implications.
This is one area where we as Christians agree with many secular feminists. Women’s bodies shouldn’t be commodities to be rented or used instrumentally by others. We believe in the market economy as the best way of generating prosperity and promoting upward social mobility, but that doesn’t mean that everything should be up for sale or rent. Respect for the fundamental dignity of human beings means that there are moral boundaries to the market economy.
Jindal’s veto gives the Legislature the opportunity to go back to this issue a third time. The legislature should ban gestational surrogacy and protect Louisiana’s women and children from exploitation. The legislature could then work to continue its already exemplary work in encouraging adoption and foster care. For that, we pledge our support and cooperation.
Many children in Louisiana need a mother and a father. Many couples in Louisiana are praying for the gift of children. Government has a role to play in crafting good social policy to facilitate the adoption of children needing parents into good homes and families. Surrogacy isn’t the way to do that.
Robert P. George is the McCormick Professor of Jurisprudence at Princeton University. Russell D. Moore is the president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention.