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Outsourcing pregnancy: a visit to India’s surrogacy clinics

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Outsourcing pregnancy: a visit to India’s surrogacy clinics

Julie Bindel, a strident opponent of surrogacy, travelled to India to find out more about a practice worth an estimated £690m a year on the subcontinent

In Ahmedabad, Gujarat, my driver is looking for one of the city’s IVF clinics. We turn on to a busy main road and I spot a sign on a crumbling wall reading “test tube babies”.

I climb the filthy stairwell and enter a small, dark reception area. In the adjoining room I spot a hospital stretcher and shelves full of metal petri dishes, forceps and hypodermic needles.

Dr Rana* leads me into a windowless office. Before we even sit down, he is telling me about a change in India’s surrogacy policy.

In October last year, the government told fertility clinics to stop all surrogate embryo transfers to foreigners. The move follows a proposed change in the law that would limit surrogacy to Indian couples, or where at least one of the commissioning parents has an Indian passport and residency.

Having established that neither I nor the woman posing as my husband’s sister own an Indian passport, Rana advises me to go to Thailand.

“It costs twice the price [that it does] here,” says Rana, “but they will even do sex selection, so many people will go from India.”

Having heard many stories about how commonplace outsourcing pregnancy and reproduction is, I am in India to investigate the country’s “rent-a-womb” industry.

As a feminist campaigner against sexual abuse of women, and in particular the sex trade, I feel sick at the idea of wombs for rent. Sitting in the clinic, seeing smartly dressed women come in to access fertility services, all I could think about was how desperate a woman must be to carry a child for money. I know from other campaigners against womb trafficking that many surrogates are coerced by abusive husbands and pimps. Watching the smiling receptionist fill out forms on behalf of prospective commissioning parents, I could only wonder at the misery and pain experienced by the women who will end up being viewed as nothing but a vessel.

Stigma is rarely an issue for those who outsource pregnancy to poor, desperate women in India, but there is plenty levelled at surrogate mothers. Many choose to leave home during their pregnancy, as it is not seen as a respectable way to earn money, particularly if they are from rural India.

Commercial surrogacy is illegal in many countries, the UK, France, Germany, Italy and Spain among them. In India, though, the industry – built on sex, race and class supremacy – is not only legal but estimated to be worth more than $1bn (£690m) a year.

Surrogates are paid about £4,500 to rent their wombs at this particular clinic, a huge amount in a country where, in 2012, average monthly earnings stood at $215 and a fifth of people live below the national poverty line. Clinics can make up to £18,000 from commissioning parents. The cost of bringing home a surrogate baby from India is approximately five times less than the sum charged in the US.

Source: theguardian, Photograph: theguardian

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