FROM a woman expecting a baby for a US-based NRI family to another waiting to deliver twins for a Rajkot couple, the proposed new law on surrogacy — announced Wednesday — pushes both into a legal grey zone.
Nothing illustrates this better than a visit to what is considered surrogacy’s Ground Zero — Anand in Gujarat with its countless IVF clinics and ready availability of surrogates.
That explains the anger among the women waiting in the new premises of Dr Nayana Patel’s Akanksha Hospital and Research Institute, one of the city’s most known clinics. The fine print is yet to be read but many women here say the Bill may have the right intentions — to protect them — but is too stringent in its scope.
“If this was really as bad as they (the government) have made it out to be, then you wouldn’t find so many of us here. Some of us are here for the second time. The option of carrying a child inside me to give joy to another woman and improve my own financial situation has empowered me,” says Manisha, 36, who is expecting twins.
This is Manisha’s second surrogacy and eighth pregnancy — she has five girls and a boy of her own. “The ban will now compel needy families to beg for money. My husband works in a pharmacy. The two surrogacies have helped us set up our home, which was not possible with his monthly income. We have six children and it is important for me to help with the finances,” she says.
The proposed Bill bars married couples who have biological or adopted children, single people, live-in partners and homosexuals from opting for surrogacy. It only allows “altruistic surrogacy” for childless couples who have been married for at least five years — the surrogate mother should be a “close relative” of the couple, should be married and have borne a child of her own. Foreigners, NRIs and PIOs who hold Overseas Citizens of India (OCI) cards have also been barred from opting for surrogacy.
Some women at the hospital claim “altruistic surrogacy” cannot work in India, where the needy turn to this option to support their families. They say that while money is the main reason behind the decision to become surrogates, they feel insulted by the use of the word “commercial”.
“What do they mean by commercial activity? Last evening, we were all watching the news discussion over this issue and someone said, surrogate women are machines. We are not. We felt so bad that some of us cried. Can you call a child-bearing woman a machine?” asks Meena, 40, a first-time surrogate.
Rashida, 40, who has completed 20 weeks of her commissioned pregnancy, says the new law “will make us unemployed”. “My husband drives a rented autorickshaw. If the government is so worried about the welfare of women who opt for surrogacy, they must provide our husbands with government jobs and give us homes. Politicians make tall promises for the poor during elections and when they come to power, pass laws that make us unemployed. I have three children. Will the government look after them?”
Among those particularly agitated by the move to impose a ban on foreign couples and PIOs seeking surrogacy is 35-year-old Kinjal, who is awaiting reports of a successful embryo transfer for an NRI couple in the US.
Kinjal says this is her second surrogacy after “helping” an ill Irish woman in 2014.
“People who do not know what surrogacy is demean it and want to ban one of the most noble and deepest of human relations. My Irish friend continues to be in touch with me. It is a bond I would have never developed had it not been for surrogacy. Foreign couples are only seeking a family and they take care of their surrogates throughout their life because of the bond, not as a commercial deal.”
Patel has stopped accepting foreign couples for surrogacy since last October but says that while regulation is needed, the ban is not in line with the need of modern times.
“The decision-makers have likened surrogacy to organ transplant, restricting it to close relatives. However, what does a woman do if she does not have a close woman relative willing to be her surrogate? There needs to be a balance and understanding of the issue. Otherwise, the bill will simply torture a woman who is yearning for a child,” says Patel.