Have fact checkers at the New York Times, so diligent and scrupulous over the past four years, taken an extended holiday?
That’s what occurred to me after reading a Times feature on the joy of commercial surrogacy under a new law in the Empire State which came into effect this week.
“New York is a loving state,” said Governor Andrew Cuomo in his announcement, “and [we] were proud to lead the charge for fairness and equality last year. With this law now in effect, no longer will anyone will be blocked from the joys of starting a family and raising children simply because of who they are.”
The lovey-dovey stuff sounds a bit odd in the mouth of a governor whose nursing home policy during the Covid-19 crisis is being lampooned in an internet meme: who killed more New Yorkers: Osama bin Laden or Andrew Cuomo?
The Times echoed the Governor’s sentimentality in a gushing profile of a surrogacy recruiter and three surrogate mothers. Its tired tropes about women died out decades ago — except when talking about surrogacy. They are warm-hearted, fertile, nurturing, and altruistic; they find fulfilment in caring for strangers (in this case, gay men). A better headline would have been: “Thy surrogate shall be as a fruitful vine …”
The author, David Dodge, is described as “a freelance writer focusing on L.G.B.T.Q. issues and non-traditional families”. The fact-checkers failed to ask if his role as a Times contributor conflicted with his role as executive editor of the website Gays With Kids. I looked for assurance that he does not have financial ties with the surrogacy agencies and IVF clinics advertised on his site. There isn’t any.
The article also claims that “the surrogacy industry remains loosely regulated by the federal government” – which makes it sound safe. This is false. There are no federal regulations for surrogacy.
And there are some questions which were posed time and again during the heated debate over legalisation last year which the author chose to dodge. If commercial surrogacy is such a great idea, why has it been restricted in India, Thailand and Cambodia, the countries with most experience with it? Why is it banned in China? How much of the pressure for legalisation came from gay couples? All three of the women interviewed in the Times article were bearing children for gay couples.
If that tiny sample is representative, focusing on kindly female producers is a kind of dodge to muddle the reality that the paying customers are mainly gay men.
Evading questions like these in a feature for the New York Times is like rhapsodising over reliable power from Three Mile Island without mentioning nuclear meltdowns. There are always drawbacks: dodgy agencies, clients who want their surrogate to have an abortion, clients who abandon their children, mothers who refuse to give up the baby, mothers who refuse to stop smoking and drinking… And down the track, older children who want to meet their biological mother and their surrogate mother.
Speaking of nuclear meltdowns, their surrogacy counterpart is happening in Georgia (the nation, not the state) right now.
The Russian media has been abuzz with the news that a 23-year-old woman from Moscow named Christina Ozturk and her husband have embarked upon the ambitious project of having 105 of their own biological children. They already have 11 in their household – one which Christina had herself, and 10 in the last two years with surrogate mothers. She met her 56-year-old husband, Galip, a Turkish businessman living in Georgia, at a resort in Batumi, where there is a well-established surrogacy industry. Each child costs about 8,000 Euros, but Mr Ozturk, who owns a chain of hotels, says that he can handle it easily. The Turkish media describes him as a billionaire, although he denies this. The project seems to have been his idea.
“I don’t know how many they will eventually be, but we certainly don’t plan to stop at 10,” says Christina. “We just not ready to talk about the final number. Everything has its time.” She did mention 105 as an upper limit on her Instagram account, although she back-pedalled in a recent post.
The family situation is quite odd. Christina was a single mum when she met the love of her life, who already had nine children, aged 12 to 34. So it will not be just a blended family, but a saturated family. Taking care of 11 small children requires an army of helpers and constant oversight of the surrogate mothers.
“The clinic in Batumi chooses surrogate mothers for us and takes full responsibility for the process,” Christina told the Russian website woman.ru. We are not personally acquainted with surrogate mothers and do not have direct contacts with them in order to avoid problems after pregnancy. All communication takes place through the clinic, we only monitor health indicators.”
Some surrogate mothers become attached to the child and refuse to give him up, even though they must under Georgian law. Christina hints that she has already compelled one woman to hand the baby over.
But quite legal. Christina and Galip are loving parents who are zealous for offsprings’ welfare; their kids will never be poor. The surrogate mothers are happy (most of them, at least). What’s not to like?
Plenty. The New York law, which the Times supports so blindly, does not reflect what most of the world, even China, thinks of surrogacy . Last year a group of European feminists launched an International Coalition for the Abolition of Surrogate Motherhood. Their objections should have been incorporated into the article:
When a social practice is inherently offensive to human rights, it is never regulated to minimize its damage. It is fought and abolished. Surrogacy undermines the principle of human dignity, which is the foundation of human rights. It is a form of medical, obstetric, symbolic, economic and psychological violence against women. It exploits them and transforms human life into a contractual object.
Isn’t this sending the world a message? Why is it that so many women despise the idea of surrogacy and so many males like it? Neo-patriarchy, anyone?