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Woman born of surrogacy shares why she supports Pope Francis’ call for a global ban

Woman born of surrogacy shares why she supports Pope Francis’ call for a global ban

Born via surrogacy in the United States in 1991, Olivia Maurel is now a leading campaigner for the abolition of “womb renting,” a practice which Pope Francis has called “deplorable.” / Credit: Fabio Gonnella/EWTN News

Vatican City, Apr 7, 2024 / 15:34 pm (CNA).

Born via surrogacy in the United States in 1991, Olivia Maurel is now a leading campaigner for the abolition of “womb renting,” a practice which Pope Francis has called “deplorable.”

While Paris Hilton, Kim Kardashian, and other celebrities make headlines when surrogate mothers give birth to their children, it is much more rare to hear from the unnamed surrogate mothers themselves or the children born of surrogacy about how it affected them.

For Maurel, being born via surrogacy led to abandonment trauma, identity issues, and several suicide attempts.

“I was a product of surrogacy and I’ve always felt it inside me — a baby made to order, a commodity for money,” she said.

“We’re used to having in the news a lot of beautiful stories of children born via surrogacy … and we are not used to hearing the bad aspects of surrogacy and how it’s totally unethical,” Maurel told CNA in an interview on April 5.

While surrogacy is banned across most countries in the European Union, the practice is permitted in the majority of U.S. states.

Ethical concerns

Whistleblowers have raised concerns after surrogate mothers have died from complications of a surrogate pregnancy or suffered from trauma from the experience.

“It’s not medical ethics to ask a woman to take money when we knowingly are asking her to risk her health. We’ve had many surrogate deaths in the United States and several in my state, California,” Jennifer Lahl told CNA.

Lahl, the president of the Center for Bioethics and Culture and the director of the surrogacy documentary “#BigFertility,” shared the story of one surrogate mother in California who was hired by a couple in China to carry twins.

“During her pregnancy, carrying twins for this couple, the purchasing parents told Linda that they were now getting a divorce and wanted Linda to terminate the pregnancy. They told her they would pay her an additional $80,000 to do this. Linda was shocked and offered to adopt the twins once they were born. The purchasing mother, who was quite wealthy, explained that she didn’t want her children to be raised in a lower income household,” Lahl shared at a conference in Rome for the universal abolition of surrogacy.

Last week, a man in Chicago was arrested after it was discovered he was planning to sexually assault the surrogate baby he had commissioned, which was due to be born in March.

“Surrogacy is the only way that a single man can gain sole custody of a newborn child,” said Kajsa Ekis Ekman, the author of “Being and Being Bought: Prostitution, Surrogacy and the Split Self.”

According to Lahl, a total ban on “renting wombs and buying children” is needed because of the inevitable limits of regulation.

“How do you regulate to prevent health risks to mother and child? How do you regulate to prevent trauma to mother and child?” she asked. “How do you regulate to prevent death to mother and child? What law could our lawmakers write and pass that would save lives?”

In light of human rights concerns, Pope Francis called for a global ban on surrogacy in a speech to all of the world’s ambassadors to the Vatican earlier this year.

“I deem deplorable the practice of so-called surrogate motherhood, which represents a grave violation of the dignity of the woman and the child, based on the exploitation of situations of the mother’s material needs. A child is always a gift and never the basis of a commercial contract,” Pope Francis said.

“Consequently, I express my hope for an effort by the international community to prohibit this practice universally. At every moment of its existence, human life must be preserved and defended,” he added.

A letter to the pope

Maurel told CNA that she was “very happy” when she heard that Pope Francis had strongly condemned surrogacy in January.

Although Maurel is not Catholic — she identifies as “a feminist and an atheist” — she had written to the pope in December sharing her story and asking for his support for a universal surrogacy ban.

She explained that she decided to write to the pope after hearing Ana Obregón, a 68-year-old Spanish TV actress, speak on the Spanish Catholic bishops’ radio network, COPE, about the actress’ experience of traveling to the United States to obtain a surrogate baby conceived with her dead son’s frozen sperm.

“And I was a bit shocked that she was able to give a testimony on the Church’s radio station and to make it sound like it’s a wonderful story,” Maurel said.

“I thought that the Church was against surrogacy. So what I did is that I wrote to the pope, explaining my situation … that I was born via surrogacy, and that I’m an atheist and a feminist. … and I asked him kindly if he could take a stance against surrogacy,” she added.

Maurel had the chance to meet Pope Francis privately last week as part of her role as the spokeswoman for the Casablanca Declaration for the Abolition of Surrogacy, a document signed in 2023 calling for the abolition of surrogacy.

She shared her testimony on Friday at a conference at Rome’s LUMSA university marking one year since the declaration was signed.

The conference was held near the Vatican a few days before the Dicastery for the Doctrine of Faith prepared to publish a document on ‘moral questions’ regarding human dignity, gender, and surrogacy.

The new document titled Dignitas Infinita (“Infinite Dignity”) (On Human Dignity) will be published on April 8.

“The reality of surrogacy is a woman that is used for her reproductive system. … When you read a surrogacy contract, it’s literally renting a woman,” Maurel said.

“And then the other reality is that in the midst of the contract, there is an object that is to be sold at the end, and that is the child. So we commodify children. We are selling and buying babies. That is the reality of surrogacy.”

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