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Commercial Surrogacy Once Booming in India is Increasingly Restricted.

Updated: Jul 16, 2021

Time July 19/Jul 26, 2021 pp34-43 |World|”Pregnancy At A Price” “Commercial surrogacy has long been seen as a route out of poverty for women in rural India-but now a ban is on the horizon” By Neha Thirani Bagri/Anand, India

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India, Russia, Ukraine and some U.S. states allow commercial surrogacy and for impoverished, mostly lower caste rural Indian women it has been a path out of poverty. Young women typically making about $100 per month working at various jobs, and often struggling to keep food on the table, can accrue up to $7,600 in only nine months of being a surrogate. As expenses are covered most of this money becomes savings that can be used to raise the standard of living for a surrogate's family. At the peak “India’s surrogacy business was worth more than $400 million a year, with some 3,000 fertility clinics across the nation.” During nearly twenty years commercial surrogacy thrived due to “a lack of bureaucratic red tape, a supply of skilled English-speaking doctors, low labor costs and a push to promote medical tourism.” One lawyer active in surrogacy had made “nearly 200 agreements each year, meeting 15 new foreign clients each week.” With changes described below “he [now] does only 20 agreements annually.”

In 2014, after years of controversy, including claims of “explotation of surrogates, abandonment of children born out of surrogacy, and the import of human embryos and gametes”, the Indian government moved to restrict surrogacy to what is know as “altruistic surrogacy”-”where the only compensation is for medical expenses and insurance-and that would be limited to childless Indian heterosexual couples who had been married for a least five years, had a doctor’s certificate proving their infertility, and were in the age groups 23 to 50 for women and 26 to 55 for men. Under this proposal only a close relative between the ages of 25 and 35 could act as a surrogate”

Ultimately the proposal, which is likely to become law this year, is still limited to altruistic surrogacy was rewritten allowing “willing women...removing the five year waiting period, waiving the requirement of an infertility certificate, allowing widows and divorced women to avail themselves of surrogacy services, and extending insurance coverage for surrogates from 16 months to 36.”

“Women’s-rights advocates agree that more regulation is needed but worry that altruistic surrogacy “will lead to women being pressured into becoming surrogates against their will” and that “Not remunerating a woman for reproductive labor is n​​ot enough to prevent exploitation.” Dr. Ranjana Kumari, “the Director of The Centre of Social Research…[comments] we never wanted the ban, but we wanted legal protection for the surrogates and intended parents…[including]...guaranteed medical insurance for the surrogates and a minimum amount of compensation...Banning never works. It hasn’t worked for drugs or alcohol. How will it work for something that is so human?”

Regulations aside “rural clinics might continue to operate unregulated. That’s how things have played out in other countries. Despite commercial surrogacy being banned in China, the New York Times estimated that more than 10,000 children a year are born there through that process.” One surrogate is quoted “Someone is not able to have a child, I am able to get pregnant, I am giving them a child...they have a need. We also have a need [financial], so what is wrong with this work?”

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