After more than a year of living through the Covid-19 outbreak, Australians have reluctantly become accustomed to some of the restrictions on their liberty imposed upon them in a collective effort to curb the outbreak of the virus and minimise illness and loss of life.
As an island nation, one of the strictest restrictions imposed on Australian citizens has been bans on overseas travel. The Federal Government has prescribed the circumstances in which it will allow exemptions to this travel ban. These include work involved in responding to the Covid-19 outbreak, or for one’s business or employer; travelling to receive urgent medical treatment that is not available in Australia; travelling outside Australia for a compelling reason for three months or longer; travelling on compelling or compassionate grounds, or where travel is in the national interest.
Growing Families, a charity that ‘provides education and support on surrogacy and egg and sperm donation’ claims to have helped dozens of Australians receive travel exemptions to go overseas to complete surrogacy arrangements or undergo IVF treatment with donor eggs in Greece, Cyprus, the United States, South Africa and Russia. They claim that these have been granted under the banner of “compelling or compassionate grounds.”
However, given some of these treatments are not legal in Australia, questions must be asked about why exemptions are being granted in the first place. For example, commercial surrogacy is illegal in every state and territory in Australia, except for the Northern Territory, and in NSW, Queensland and the ACT, it is a crime to go overseas for commercial surrogacy. Donating sperm and donor eggs anonymously is also illegal in Australia, in recognition of the fact that donor-conceived children have a right to know their biological origins and to be able to contact their biological parents should they wish to do so once they turn 18 years old.
Sarah Dingle, journalist and author of Brave New Humans: The Dirty Reality of Donor Conception, has “described the idea that a charity is helping people organise travel exemptions essentially to circumvent Australian law as ‘horrendous’”.
“Dingle said children have a right to know their biological parents and she also has grave concerns for the welfare of women involved in the ‘inherently exploitative’ world of commercial egg donation and surrogacy.
“If it’s not right to pay an 18 year old for her eggs in Australia, we should not be paying an 18 year old in the Ukraine.”
Australians have shown themselves willing to put up with a great deal when it comes to personal liberties during this time. However, given how many Australians are still waiting to come back home after being stranded overseas during the pandemic, and many others have been prevented from travelling overseas to see loved ones, it is highly inappropriate that the Federal Government is providing travel exemptions for practices that are illegal in this country, and harmful to women.
WFA calls on the Federal Government to ensure that its travel guidelines are not used to circumvent Australian law and are applied in a way that puts the interests of women, both in Australia and overseas, first.