Last Tuesday, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) rejected an attempt to legalize surrogacy throughout Europe.
By a narrow majority, the representatives of the 47 Member States rejected a recommendation aimed at regulating the selling of female gametes and renting of women’s wombs.
This was the third attempt to normalize surrogacy by Belgian Senator Petra de Sutter. Advocates tried to distinguish between what they called “altruistic” vs. “for-profit” surrogacy, only condemning the latter.
According to De Sutter, a clear and absolute ban of the practice, like the one that a bi-partisan coalition of European representatives tried to include in the final text, would violate children’s rights. Assuming that legal prohibitions would still fail to prevent surrogacy, De Sutter discussed a need to offer legal protections to children born of the practice. In the face of a “fait accompli,” which most European countries still consider a crime, De Sutter argued that the law shall not condemn, but regulate.
The European Parliament, which is distinct from the Council of Europe, took a different stance, calling surrogacy “exploitation of the female body and her reproductive organs,” and invoked a ban in 2011 and again in 2015. Hundreds of thousands of European citizens supported the same prohibition, joined by several feminist and women’s movements. Surrogacy not only commodifies children, they argued, it reduces women to rentable hosts. Experts said it violates the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, which protects a child’s “right to know and be cared for by his or her parents.” They said it violates the European Convention on Human Rights and Biomedicine, which states, “The human body and its parts shall not, as such, give rise to financial gain.”
Some Committee members mistrusted De Sutter’s report due to a perceived conflict of interest. De Sutter has connections to surrogacy clinics in India, where exploitation of poor women via surrogacy agreements prompted the tightening of its laws. De Sutter is also a gynecologist and heads the Reproductive Health Department of Ghent’s University Hospital, which performs surrogacy.
The debate was heated and the majority narrow. Britain’s Lord George Foulkes voiced accusations of “religious” and “ideological” claims,’ and his countryman Baroness Massey said, “women’s rights are choices.”
On the other side, Italian Milena Santerini, said, “With courage we stand against surrogacy,” and, “The happiness of a child cannot depend upon the wounded desire of others.” Ireland’s Rónán Mullen said, “We need to protect. … The choice is not to regulate exploitation; the law can say a complete ‘no’.”
Nicola Speranza, Policy Officer of the European Federation of Catholic Family Associations (FAFCE), said Tuesday’s outcome came from a joint effort. Speranza said, “The votes of the socialist party, and this bipartisan victory, clearly show that there is nothing religious or ideological in condemning surrogacy. It is a matter of human dignity.”