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BANGKOK, Thailand — In the era of globalized trade, there are few things Westerners can’t outsource. The clothes on our backs are made in Bangladesh. The gadgets we adore? China. Our morning dose of coffee comes from Brazil, Vietnam and beyond.
Even Western babies can be nurtured in the bellies of foreign women — each one paid to endure pregnancy and the pangs of childbirth. Those arrangements, facilitated by the global surrogacy industry, have boomed in the past decade.
But there are signs that this trade in surrogate services is up against a formidable backlash.
Westerners seeking offshore surrogate wombs have largely flocked to countries such as India, Nepal, Thailand and Mexico. After paying agencies roughly $50,000, couples find a woman willing to carry their embryo, which is implanted by willing doctors. Once agencies extract their fees, the payout to the surrogate is as little as $4,000.
That model is now failing. All of the above countries are issuing or finalizing laws that will make hiring surrogates difficult if not impossible for foreigners.
The countries’ common rationale: Ethical concerns trump economic gains — even in India, where the surrogacy trade is estimated at $400 million per year.
“They view their women’s wombs as being exploited,” says Donna Dickenson, a University of London medical ethics professor and an expert in the global surrogacy trade. “There is a history of colonialism, of extracting raw materials from colonies, and that is something these countries have to contend with.”
“For them to see their babies as another one of those raw materials? I think there there’s something to that,” Dickenson says. “Even though that’s clearly not how Western couples see it.”
More key lawmakers in these countries are troubled by the specter of wealthy foreigners tapping their women as proxy child bearers. And they are staking their claims on moral and nationalistic grounds.
One Thai lawmaker intends to “stop Thai women’s wombs from becoming the world’s womb.”
In India, legislators are passing laws restricting surrogacy to straight citizens who are “duly married.” In Mexico’s Tabasco State, once a hotbed of surrogacy, the trade is now barred to foreigners. Oneleading lawmaker calls it “a new form of exploitation of women.”
There is indeed a dark side to the global surrogacy trade. One agency that formerly operated in Thailand, previously investigated by GlobalPost, described pregnancy like an unfortunate illness in its marketing materials. The symptoms: “loss of intimacy” and “growing out of shape” as well as “birth pangs.”
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