Twenty-eight-year old Devi Parmar, who was a surrogate mother until last December, says she has no idea about the proposed ban on surrogacy. “I know so many poor women are doing it. Daily wagers like me cannot make that kind of money otherwise. This was at least the better option,” says Devi, who lives in Gujarat’s Anand district.
Now, with the proposed ban on commercial surrogacy, women such as Devi stand to lose that “better option”. Advocate Anurag Chawla of the Delhi-based Surrogacy Laws India feels that the law has been “too tough” on surrogate mothers by proposing altruistic surrogacy, and restricting women from becoming a surrogate more than once. “Not all surrogate mothers are forced by their families, or end up in a bad situation. Some use the money for a good purpose,” he says.
Devi, who got a house built with that money, seems to be one among those. But Devi was lucky: the commissioning couple who she had the baby for was a “foreigner” -- Devi says she doesn’t which country they belonged to -- and so, she was paid six lakhs as surrogacy fee. “Most women will get only half of that,” says Chawla. “What is that kind of money in this day and age. This is hardly a ‘commercial’ enterprise. Besides, the women are also helping infertile couples,” he says.
Many such as Chawla feel that the alternative of altruistic surrogacy will not work. Couples from the UK – where only altruistic surrogacy is allowed -- have travelled to India, paid for surrogacy, but on paper, they have managed to show it as “altruistic”, he says.
For those such as Devi, surrogacy means an assured sum of money. “Initially I didn’t know how much money I would get, or what could happen to my body. But then I got to know that it was a good amount. Many women also save money for their kids’ education, or to repay a loan,” she says. Women such as her also invoke that they are doing a “good deed” for others by giving them a baby.
Mumbai-based infertility specialist Dr Aniruddha Malpani says that the idea that poor women “can’t be trusted with making choices” needs to change. Malpani also feels that the focus should have been on the Assisted Reproductive Technologies (ART)Bill, of which surrogacy was only a part until early this year. “In India, IVF procedures are significantly higher than the surrogacy arrangements. Instead of regulating those procedures and clinics, the government has just singled out surrogacy, and made a law. For this, IVF doctors were not even consulted,” he says. The Bill also violates the reproductive rights of women who need surrogacy -- a small section among those who need infertility treatment -- because they do not have a uterus, or it is damaged, he says.
Women’s groups have long argued for regulation of ART clinics and surrogacy, in light of the burgeoning infertility industry in India, instead of a ban on the practice. Regulation would also have meant that surrogate mothers would have medical insurance and they would be clearly informed about the procedures that they would be undergoing, among other rights.
Back in Gujarat, however, Devi is still weighing her options for a second term as a surrogate mother. “I still need money. I work in the fields now, but that gives me only 3,600 per month. So, surrogacy is a good option. But then, it will mean that I have to stay in the surrogacy hostel, away from my children. So maybe, I won’t do it,” she says.