Outrage at the resignation of Republican Representative Trent Franks has exploded throughout conservative circles. A pro-life warrior, Franks holds heroic stature. The Susan B. Anthony List counts the Congressman among its most courageous proponents of pro-life legislation such as the Pain Capable Unborn Child Protection Act.
Not very long ago, I stood and applauded Representative Franks’ dedicated service to the unborn during a private event on the Hill. He has indisputably championed the pro-life cause like few others. His resignation comes as a great shock.
Congressman Franks attributed the circumstances of his sudden resignation to marital infertility and his determination to acquire another child by use of a third party human egg and gestational surrogate, as he and his wife successfully used to obtain twins in 2008.
“Due to my familiarity and experience with the process of surrogacy, I clearly became insensitive as to how the discussion of such an intensely personal topic might affect others,” Franks reflected in face of allegations that he had personally solicited two young female staffers to bear his child as gestational surrogate.
While mindful of the political maneuvering rocking the Hill during this time of unparalleled interest in sexual harassment, I am ashamed of conservatives’ disparagement of these two unidentified young women and purposeful disregard of a grave wrong by Representative Franks if he did indeed solicit them to work as gestational carriers for himself and his wife.
Whether the Congressman’s resignation is the proper response to these allegations at this stage, or whether, even if fully proven, such behavior warrants removal from office, is not my subject here. Nor should it be the focus of a community concerned with moral behavior and judgment. Instead, Franks’ admitted insensitivity in soliciting gestational surrogacy from female aides should generate concerned discussion and reflection, not vindictive attacks.
Solicitation for surrogacy offends the dignity of the female person just as much as solicitation for sex. Indeed, solicitation for surrogacy derives from solicitation for sex and is made possible only by the pharmaceutical separation of sex and conception and the medical innovation and sale of in vitro fertilization. Gestational surrogacy provides a clinical method for transferring ejaculated sperm from Trent Franks’ body, for example, into an egg and onto the body of a female contracted, typically for money, to the implantation, gestation and hand-delivery of a living, human baby. The surrogate’s body becomes the object of a legal agreement by which the contracting parties regulate and restrict the daily behavior and the maternal rights of the female and sever the human child’s legal and actual connection to its birth mother.
In his 1995 Letter to Women, Pope John Paul II begged that special attention be paid to correcting the broad historical and cultural barriers women have encountered in pursuit of equal dignity. These obstacles “prevented women from truly being themselves” and consigned women to the “margins of society” in sexual roles as “objects.”
Nor can we fail, in the name of the respect due to the human person, to condemn the widespread hedonistic and commercial culture which encourages the systematic exploitation of sexuality and corrupts even very young girls into letting their bodies be used for profit.” (JP II, Letter to Women, June, 1995)
That Representative Franks and his wife feel “forever grateful” to the “wonderful and loving lady” who gestated their first two children does not negate the stark reality that they acquired children only through the use of the bodies of other women. Surrogacy, both through the purchase of human eggs and human gestation, has metastasized into a burgeoning commercial market that exploits women’s bodies for eggs and reproductive capacities.
Ugly attacks on the female aides of Representative Franks seek to invalidate their alleged experience by accusing them of lying, at worse, or lacking fortitude, at best. The reality of their discomfort and sense of violation, even if now manipulated for political purposes, is lost to consideration and dialogue. Incursion on the dignity of the female is further normalized in lieu of taking seriously a young woman’s complaint about an affront to her personal dignity
I know this from my own experience.
In the late 1980s as a new law professor at University of Cincinnati, I gave my first professional paper at a conference of clinical law professors. Afterwards, the Dean of a well-known law school, approached me to praise my presentation. I was honored and jumped at his offer to discuss my work further over a drink. Too readily, I imagined that this well-situated, highly respected man, 20 years my elder, might admire me, mentor me and assist the progress of my career because I was skilled, professional, intellectual and displayed good people skills.
We engaged in lively conversation at the bar. I was fully engaged and focused. I was encouraged that other professors did not try to elbow in and interrupt my opportunity with the Dean. I was utterly oblivious to his actual purpose – and stunned when he abruptly took my arm and said, “Let’s go up to my room and have sex.”
As overwhelming emotion does, my brain got very fuzzy. I expressed dismay and became suddenly conscious of people staring at us. I recall the eminent professor assuring me that he had an “open marriage” and both he and his wife were free to have sex with others. My refusal and exit from his company seem profoundly awkward, sheepish and weak in my recollection. I threw myself on my bed and wept.
Men often do not respect the dignity of women, whether by intention, over-riding drive or simple original sin. Young women become accustomed to this in male peers with whom they compete at work and deal with it by treating it as mere flirtation. But young women tend to hold older, well-positioned men in higher regard, accepting their attention as authentic interest in their persons. When this expectation is betrayed, young women reasonably experience surprise, offense and pressure. It’s a blow to their personal dignity.
Men like that Dean, Representative Franks and others do not comprehend what Saint John Paul II so clearly perceived: that women too often are valued more as sexual, reproductive objects “than for their skill, their professionalism, their intellectual abilities, their deep sensitivity; in a word, the very dignity of their being!”
This, it seems to me, is the discussion we should be having. Burdened by marital infertility, Trent Franks decided to acquire the human child he wanted and targeted his young female aides for their apparent fertility and reproductive capacity. Their offense is both reasonable, worthy and primary. Solicitation for surrogacy, I suggest, inherently offends the dignity of women, for it objectifies and dehumanizes the female like any solicitation for sex.
Trent Franks' resignation from his position in Congress is a great loss to the pro-life movement. I have no doubt that the entire conservative community will honor his work and keep “distinct” his amazing contributions – one of which, I hope, will be deeper recognition of the inherent immorality of surrogacy as an affront to the dignity of women.
Marjorie Murphy Campbell writes for St. Dominic’s in San Francisco, California, NewFeminism.co and The Christian Review. She holds a JD from University of Virginia School of Law, a Ll.M. from Georgetown Law and a JCL from the School of Canon Law of Catholic University of America. She has practiced criminal defense and bankruptcy and taught at University of Cincinnati School of Law and the McGeorge School of Law at University of the Pacific. She and her husband live in Utah.