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

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - WoMoGeS (Women’s movements and gestational surrogacy: engaging, debating and policy making)

Reporting period: 2018-04-23 to 2020-04-22

“Women Movements and Gestational Surrogacy: engaging, debating and policy making - WoMoGeS” addresses the role of Women's Movements (WMs) in debates and policy making on gestational surrogacy (GS) and assisted reproduction (ARTs) policies. WoMoGeS stems from the observation that in recent years in several EU countries (such as Italy, France, Spain, Sweden) women have mobilized against GS, which is a fast-growing transnational reproductive practice and a new form of labor for women: embryos are implanted in the surrogate's uterus (not genetically related) and the child at birth is delivered to intended parents (IP), who are providers of one or two gametes. WMs are primary actors in public discourses and policy making on procreation (e.g. abortion, contraception, medicalisation of pregnancy) 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, exploitation of vulnerable women, inequality between surrogates and 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 to national and international institutions 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.
In the first two years of the project the case studies on USA and Mexico have been completed. Research activities included:
Review of sociological literature on ARTs, reproductive politics and feminist theory of reproduction.
Thematic analysis of 72 newspaper articles to understand major concerns on GS in the national public debates.
39 interviews with feminists and surrogacy discourse makers and other categories such as: activists, journalists, academics, and public officials engaged in areas such as women's rights, reproductive health, infertility people rights, pro-life and pro-choice movements, child adoption, etc.

Within the WMs in USA and Mexico there are only a few expert groups with a public position GS, while others do not engage and might not be well informed. GS seems not have reached the status of “cause” within the WMs (as for abortion, violence, sex-work, etc.). During field-works the following key groups in civil society were identified as principal discourse makers on GS; however not all of them can be considered expressions of WMs:
Stop Surrogacy Now campaign is composed of feminists, pro-life, bioethicists, and other experts, based in USA with 20,000 members across the world;
Center for Genetics and Society (CGS), California-based NGO for responsible use and governance of genetics and ARTs, partner with Pro-Choice Alliance for Responsible Research (PCARR) and feminist Our Bodies Ourselves (OBOS);
Grupo de Información en Reproducción Elegida (GIRE), NGO specialized in the defence of reproductive rights in Mexico;
Feministas Mexicanas contra Vientres de Alquiler (Femmva), spontaneous group allied with the Coalition against Trafficking against Women-Latin America and the Caribbean (CATW-LAC);
Early Institute, child's rights think-tank based in Mexico City;
L'Escola, feminist NGO engaged in awareness campaigns for Mexican women, headquarter in Spain.

Internationally, as well as in USA and Mexico, two main fronts emerge: abolitionists and reformists. Abolitionists see GS as a form of violation of human rights, reproductive exploitation and commodification of women and children, a practice which cannot be ethical and should be banned internationally. They believe information campaigns on risks, cases that have gone wrong and public interventions on structural causes of female poverty could discourage further spread of GS. They also wish that surrogates and surrogate children mobilize to voice their experience. Reformists believe in the possibility to prevent unethical practices in the way GS is performed with the aim to improve the protection of surrogates, IP and children's rights. Among concrete proposals they advance: mechanisms to ensure fully informed and free consent by surrogates, who also need to be protected from the eventuality that IP abandon the child; prohibition of multiple embryo implantations; stricter requirements for starting GS agencies; protection of child's rights to know their origins.

Bottomline for any attempt to reconcile their visions resides in the different status given to the maternal-fetus bond: in abolitionist discourse pregnancy and motherhood belong naturally to the same person and the deprivation of the bond established during pregnancy is an harm that in all GS cases, no matter how well are regulated, cannot be avoided. However, among reformists there are those who are not necessarily in favour of GS but yet adopt a pragmatic approach to the unstoppable diffusion of the industry, or are pessimistic about the capability of the State to enforce prohibitions (discourse particularly spread in Mexico where there is fear that human trafficking is advantaged by unregulated GS). While keeping divergent long-term goals they still might collaborate in the short term on common concerns to: protect surrogates, egg-donors and children from unethical legal and medical procedures; respect of freedom and dignity of surrogates; promote follow-up studies on the well being of surrogates and children, and more information for the public and people who consider to step into GS.
Findings from the 2 case studies revealed interesting issues that need to be further investigated through data collection in Italy and the comparative analysis during the year 3 of the project, which will enable to elaborate a more complete appraisal of WMs discourses, strategies and influence on GS policies. First of all, there is need to explain why GS is only a niche within WMs and how European feminist concerns and mobilizations against GS place in this broader picture. Also, there is need to shed lights on the problems of consistency of the main arguments used by abolitionists and reformists insofar they might hinder the concrete reception of social movements' demands in policy making while contributing to the polarization of the debate based on ideas that not always correspond to the social reality and facts. I noticed that formation of consensus and dissent around GS is heavily influenced by passionate advocacy of principles: commodification of women's bodies and autonomy are appealing formula insofar they evoke important crucial causes and achievements of the feminist movement, such as access to abortion, abolition of prostitution, dignity of sex workers, economic and social emancipation from the family, etc. These principle work as orientation devices for activists, policy makers, officials, and general public who have not yet accumulated sufficient expertise on the topic. The risk is that GS in the public imaginary establishes as another iconic representation of female emancipation, with low reflection on its social, ethical, and anthropological implications.