Ins & Outs of Surrogacy & Feticide
Wombs in Punjab are now in news for another reason. So far they have been in the spotlight for becoming tombs for the girl-child; now a recent article in ToI reports Punjab as the leading destination for surrogacy in India.
Surrogacy refers to an arrangement whereby a woman agrees to become pregnant for the purpose of gestating and giving birth to a child for others to raise. She may be the child’s genetic mother (traditional surrogacy) or she may be implanted with someone else’s fertilised egg (gestational surrogacy). [Pande, 2009]
Earlier, it was the city of Anand in Gujarat that had been identified as the leading destination for commercial surrogacy in India. Now, as per the ToI report, Punjab has more surrogacy cases than Gujarat. Both Gujarati and Punjabi communities are prosperous north-Indian communities and have a large population living abroad that might be instrumental in spreading the word about ‘fertile’ conditions for surrogacy in the respective states (cheap ‘labor’ and IVF costs: costs one-tenth of what it costs in the West). What is interesting about Gujarat and Punjab becoming leading destinations for commercial surrogacy in India is that both these states are also infamous for female-feticide.
In India, decisions regarding both surrogacy and sex-selective abortion are greatly influenced by social pressures. Surrogacy in India is equated with sex-work, as ‘dirty’ workers [Pande, 2009]; to avoid the stigma, surrogate mothers often spend the last few months of pregnancy in seclusion. They return to their village after the delivery or later explain away the pregnancy as miscarriage. In the case of sex-selective abortions, the social preference to have sons drives the decision to abort female fetuses in the case of feticide or to kill the girl-child as in the case of infanticide. Activists, on the one hand, are seeking to remove the stigma associated with ‘commercial surrogacy’ in favor of women’s reproductive rights, and, on the other hand, are seeking to stigmatize the practice of sex-selective abortions to prevent discrimination against the girl-child.
Technology plays an important role in providing conducive conditions to both these phenomena: Surrogacy is helped by advances in “infertility and assisted reproductive technologies like IVF, test tube babies, intrauterine insemination, embryo freezing, endoscopic surgery and sonography.” Also, technology such as ultrasonography, amniocentesis, gender-testing kits that can be ordered through mail and used at home have made it easier to determine sex of the fetus.
Moral debate about surrogacy is not the topic of this posting. In this post, I could not help but wonder how these two womb-related phenomena of birth and abortion guided by economic and social pressures will play out in Punjab and the Punjabi community. Will one phenomenon affect the other? If so, in what ways?
[Amrita Pande (2009) Not an 'Angel', not a 'Whore': Surrogates as 'Dirty' workers in India. Indian Journal of Gender Studies. 16 (2)]