Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Paid to Stay Pregnant… Putting All Our Eggs in One Basket

Women’s bodies have always been a battleground. While many strides have been taken to give women control over their own bodies, financial compensation has rarely factored into the scuffle. Money has suddenly become a weapon, but where the blows land makes little sense. Somehow, some believe that paying pregnant women for carrying children to term to give them up for adoption or donating eggs for IVF is just great, while struggling women who need support to raise their own children or those who want to donate eggs to scientific research are menaces to society. Apparently, it’s only okay when we pay women to reproduce for others.

A recent discussion on Bloggingheads between Steven Waldnet of Beliefnet and William Saletan of Slate proposed an intriguing question: should women be paid to carry children to term? Both men agreed that reducing abortions would be beneficial to society, and Waldnet believes that financial considerations often impact the decisions of pregnant women. The obvious solution, then, is to pay women to have children to give up for adoption. Apparently there’s a shortage of children for the surplus of adoptive parents, parents who receive government benefits for adopting. If pregnant women received such benefits – Waldnet stipulates that “maybe we should pay her $1000,” although he admits that he does not have an exact dollar estimate – everything would work out just fine. So kind of like a national surrogate pregnancy policy, as Saletan suggests, except in reality, there wouldn’t be enough parents for such an influx of bundles of joy. Maybe it would be better to support mothers who do want to keep their children and are struggling financially. Oh wait, right - these same groups who would support paying women to give their children up for adoption seem adamantly opposed to supporting underprivileged mothers.

One thing women have been paid for is their donation of eggs for reproductive purposes: that is, for more babies. Stem cell researchers have been trying for years to recruit egg donors (using the same invasive extraction procedure) without being able to offer any form of compensation. Just last month, New York controversially became the first state to allow researchers to pay women up to $10,000 for donating eggs for scientific purposes. Makes sense: same procedure, same incentive. But apparently the problem is that it’s not the same result, with one leading to newborns and the other to stem cell research. Regardless of whether harvesting eggs exploits women, it seems odd that payment would depend on the result.

The math just doesn’t add up. Money for babies = good, while money for mothers = bad? Money for eggs = good and money for eggs = bad? If you’re going to commodify women, folks, at least be consistent.

Dina and Ruth in Philadelphia

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