Bioethics has been leaking into politics in the high-profile Sydney electorate of Warringah. Australia goes to the polls on May 21, with Liberal-National Party coalition going for a fourth three-year term.
The election is being fought mostly on economic management, but there are a number of other issues, especially climate change, which will affect the outcome. In Warringah, a traditionally Liberal seat currently held by an Independent, the game-changer could be transgender rights and surrogacy.
Though relatively unknown, the Liberal candidate, Katherine Deves, a co-founder of the Save Women’s Sport lobby group, was hand-picked by Prime Minister Scott Morrison. She strongly opposes the participation of trans women in women’s sports and opening up women-only spaces to them.
This alone painted a big bullseye on her candidacy. However, a trove of 6000 deleted tweets surfaced and provided more ammunition. One of her controversial ideas is opposition to commercial surrogacy. Here are some of her tweets:
- “Surrogacy is exploitation of women, and a human rights violation.”
- “Surrogacy is a human rights violation. Women’s bodies are not vehicles for a vanity project.” (This was a comment on US Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg’s announcement that he and his partner had a child through surrogacy.)
- “Surrogacy is reproductive prostitution. It is egregious exploitation of women, both the woman from the egg is ‘harvested’ and the pregnant woman who gives birth to the baby. Breaking the mother-baby dyad is a catastrophic disruption to normal human reproduction and relationship.”
The reaction to her views on transgender issues and surrogacy was less than favourable. “I have received death threats. I have had to have the police and the AFP involved. My safety has been threatened,’’ Ms Deves told the media. “My family are away out of Sydney because I don’t want them to witness what I’m going through nor do I want their safety put at risk.”
Sam Everingham, of Sydney-based surrogacy organisation Growing Families, told the Sydney Morning Herald that Deves’s comments were “inflammatory”. “Many hundreds of Australians engage in well-regulated surrogacy arrangements every year, including many from her own electorate,” he said. “Ignorance breeds prejudice and discrimination.”
Mr Everingham might not be the best person to comment on Ms Deves’s election challenges. His company has surrogate mothers in battle zones in Ukraine. He told The Telegraph (London) last month that he had employed SWAT teams to extract their babies and to deliver them to the intended parents. So much for those “well-regulated surrogacy arrangements”.
The fact is that surrogacy is a poor choice for poor women. The countries from which Mr Everingham sources his surrogates – the US, Ukraine, Georgia, Colombia, Mexico — are rich in poor women. How many women grow up dreaming of the day when they will be able to carry another person’s baby for cash? How many women from Scarsdale, New York, does Mr Everingham have on his books? From Knightsbridge, in London? From Rose Bay, in Sydney?
Like prostitution, surrogacy values women only for their bodies. That’s not a prejudice; it’s the premise on which Mr Everingham’s dangerous and destructive business model is based. Katherine Deves is absolutely correct: surrogacy is exploitation.