An Australian surrogacy lobby group has seized on statistics released by the Commonwealth Department of Home Affairs to renew calls to legalise commercial surrogacy in Australia.
Data from the Department of Home Affairs reveals that 275 babies born overseas by way of surrogacy arrangements were granted Australian citizenship in 2019-20.
There were 232 such babies in the previous year. The top destination for commissioning parents to seek surrogates was the United States, with 120 babies born there in 2020. The Ukraine was the next highest destination, with 50 babies born there to Australian parents.
Other destinations included Canada, Georgia, Thailand and China.
Commercial surrogacy is banned in all Australian jurisdictions, apart from the Northern Territory which is currently drafting laws.
Melbourne surrogacy activist and lawyer Sarah Jefford has called for the laws to be changed in Australia, stating that Australia’s superior health system and better protections mean that practices in other countries, where the practice is like ‘baby farming’ that exploit poor women, would not occur here.
“We have good frameworks here. The rights of the child and the bodily autonomy of the surrogate are protected.”
However, this is despite a 2016 Commonwealth Parliament Inquiry into the regulatory and legislative aspects of international and domestic surrogacy arrangements which recommended that the practice of commercial surrogacy remain illegal in Australia, “informed by the view that, even with the best of regulatory intentions, there is still significant potential for the exploitation of surrogates and children to occur.”
Calls for surrogacy laws to be relaxed predominantly focus on the rights of adults to commission children; seldom do those advocating for the practice demonstrate what measures could be put in place to protect those involved from exploitation.
As articulated in resolutions adopted by the European Union, surrogacy ‘undermines the human dignity of the woman since her body and its reproductive functions are used as a commodity.’ Given this commodification and objectification, the stories of abuse and maltreatment of surrogates is hardly surprising. Women from underprivileged backgrounds are particularly vulnerable to exploitation and such women don’t just exist overseas – they live here in Australia too.
Children are similarly treated as commodities to be traded (in what can only be described as a modern form of human trafficking), which is why we hear devastating stories of abandonment when the children don’t measure up to the “commissioning parents” expectations. The children who do make it to their commissioning families, must nevertheless endure separation from their birth mother, who is sometimes their biological mother as well.
In the end, the fact remains that surrogacy is inherently exploitative of both women and children. We do not need more avenues for their exploitation.