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Women’s movements and gestational surrogacy: engaging, debating and policy making

Periodic Reporting for period 2 - WoMoGeS (Women’s movements and gestational surrogacy: engaging, debating and policy making)

Reporting period: 2020-04-23 to 2021-04-22

WoMoGeS addresses the role of Women's Movements (WMs) in debates and policy making on gestational surrogacy (GS) policies. WoMoGeS stems from the observation that in recent years in several EU countries women have mobilized against GS, which is a fast-growing transnational reproductive practice and a new form of labor for women. WMs are primary actors in public discourses and policy making on procreation and this study aims to reveal how they contribute to the specific emerging phenomenon of GS, which poses several crucial questions on women's and children health, inequality between surrogates and intended parents (IP), individual emancipation and commodification of human life. WoMoGeS analyses how WMs in USA, Mexico and Italy frame GS, what theories they use, what their policy demands are, and how their organize strategic alliances - within WMs and with other societal groups. Understanding the diversity of perspectives and demands from WMs in different countries, ideological conflicts and transnational platforms of alliances, is important for enhancing the quality and inclusiveness of the debate on GS in Europe, as well as to avoid that radicalised positions could be uncritically received in policy making. The study found that the debate is polarized with abolitionist and regulatory demands based respectively on two macro frames: commodification and autonomy of women. The study also found that the regulatory approach, which is dominant in policy making internationally, is often endorsed with a pragmatic attitude towards the unstoppable diffusion of the fertility market and the need to protect women and children involved in it.
3 case studies on USA, Mexico and Italy have been completed. Research activities included: review of interdisciplinary surrogacy scholarship, sociological studies on feminism and assisted reproduction; thematic analysis of 87 newspaper articles to understand major concerns on GS in the national debates; 50 interviews with feminists, activists, journalists, academics, and public officials engaged in areas such as women's rights, reproductive health, infertility, pro-life and pro-choice movements, and child adoption.
The study found that abolitionists include mainly radical, eco, lesbian, difference feminists, pro-lifers and pro-family groups, whilst reformists include gender and autonomy feminists, LGBTQ activists, and infertile people representatives. It was identified a global discourse on surrogacy which is made of a few macro frames: the prevalent frames in the abolitionist cause are “reproductive exploitation” and “commodification of women and children”, while the reformist/regulatory discourse is framed by “reproductive rights” and “women's autonomy”. Reformists believe in the possibility to prevent unethical practices in the way GS is performed with the aim to improve the protection of surrogates, parents and children's rights. Internationally, there are two main abolitionist international initiatives: the Stop Surrogacy Now campaign (born in California in 2015, endorsed by people and organizations with different missions and values) and the International Coalition for the Abolition of Surrogate Motherhood (born in 2018 in France, open only to feminists). In the regulation front, to my knowledge, there is nothing comparable to an international campaign or coalition for the total legalization of GS. However, whilst abolitionism tend to work as an utopia, by setting an ideal final objective whose pursuit generates small social changes, the regulatory goal has a more immediate impact and is the dominant approach in institutional policy making. Overall, feminist interest in GS has increased in the last 5 years in Europe, in the United States and in Latin America.
A comprehensive discussion of these findings and their social implications can be read in the open-access monograph Sociological Debates on Gestational Surrogacy (Springer 2021) https://www.springer.com/gp/book/9783030803018 and in other peer-reviewed publications available on the project website www.womoges.wordpress.com. Findings have been also disseminated in academic conferences, university lectures and civil society round tables in several countries such as Mexico, United States, Canada, France, and Spain.
The study provides an analysis of discourse specificities and strategies of mobilizations on GS in countries that are different each others for the following aspects: women's social condition, social inequality, surrogacy legislative frameworks, foreign or domestic IP, acceptance of surrogacy in society, and priorities that the topic has within WMs.
Secondly, the study provides a theoretical contribution to surrogacy scholarship. In light of the observation that surrogacy is debated through an adult-centric perspective, as a social practice that affects the individual life, social relations and inequalities of women, IP, infertile people, and homosexual people, I suggest a perspectival shift to a child-centric discourse: it is important to affirm that GS is first of all a procreative practice aimed at the generation of new human beings (in the form of children), although this aspect is often backgrounded in public debate and feminist discourse. In policy making the child's rights are subordinated to the freedom of the adult to resort to surrogacy: for example the child's rights to know his/her origins is resolved by recommending that the child can access the name of the surrogate.
Thirdly, this study warns that formation of consensus and dissent around GS is heavily influenced by passionate advocacy of principles: commodification of women's bodies and women's autonomy are appealing formula insofar they evoke crucial causes of the feminist movement, such as access to abortion, abolition of prostitution, dignity of sex workers, and emancipation from the family. However, they discourage reflection on GS social, ethical, and anthropological implications, by working as orientation devices for activists, policy makers, and the general public who have not yet accumulated sufficient expertise on the topic; as a result, GS is establishing itself in the public imaginary as another iconic representation of female emancipation. Also, arguments based on these two formulas have some problems of consistency, which might hinder the concrete reception of social movements' demands in policy making: this study contributes to question the principle of women's autonomy by looking at how in fact surrogates' autonomy during pregnancy is shrunk; on the other hand the defence of women from commodification should be understood in light of a spread social acceptance of the principle of self-determination and self-entrepreneurship.Finally this study identifies a few common concerns on which abolitionists and reformists might want to collaborate on the short-term, while keeping divergent long-term goals: protecting surrogates, egg-providers and children from unethical legal and medical procedures; respecting freedom and dignity of surrogates; promoting follow-up studies on the well being of surrogates and children, quantitative monitoring of the phenomena, and more scientific-based information for the public.
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