‘It’s going to make me really sad’: Georgia plans to ban commercial surrogacy |  women’s rights

It is the second time that Elena*, who lives in the Georgian capital of Tbilisi, has chosen to earn an income as a surrogate mother.

With her own daughter requiring costly medical treatments and therapy to treat a health condition, Elena has found working as a surrogate mother to be a good way to support her family.

“The surrogacy program has been of great help to me in managing all of my daughter’s medical expenses and other household expenses. It was a real relief for the whole family,” she told Al Jazeera.

But that source of income could soon be cut off for Elena and other surrogates in Georgia if the government’s proposed ban on barring foreign couples from accessing commercial surrogacy services in the country goes ahead as planned next year.

When Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili announced the plan for the ban in June, he said it was necessary to protect both surrogate mothers and children and prevent human trafficking.

He also said there was a need to ensure babies don’t end up with same-sex couples, which is against Georgian legislation.

The non-commercial surrogacy services remain legal only on the “principle of altruism” and exclusively for Georgian couples.

The bill provides for compensation for costs related to medical examinations or labour. If approved, the bill, which also bans advertising for surrogacy services, will go into effect on January 1 next year.

The War in Ukraine

Analysts believe the move comes amid increasing pressure on the country’s surrogacy sector after Russia’s all-out invasion of Ukraine last February prompted a brief slowdown in surrogacy operations in the war-torn country. Before the war, Ukraine was considered the largest center for surrogacy in Europe.

Polina Vlasenko, a postdoctoral researcher in reproductive mobility at Indiana University who conducted field research in Georgia before the coronavirus pandemic, told Al Jazeera that the expected ban is part of a broader political agenda by Georgia’s conservative government.

“Part of that is also populism and the government’s attempt to tailor its policies to voters and society’s expectations on certain issues that are very sensitive, such as surrogacy,” she said.

“But if that happens, it will be the surrogate mothers who will be negatively affected. Instead of giving them better protection and security, the government decides to just ban the whole practice, which basically takes their job away,” Vlasenko added.

More broadly, it is the latest development in an already vulnerable sector, hit by the war in Ukraine and suspected human trafficking scandals.

Last month, a major fertility clinic in Greece was accused of exploiting nearly 200 surrogate mothers from countries including Ukraine, Romania and Georgia.

The scandal left a number of intended parents and babies in legal limbo.

Sam Everingham had two daughters through surrogacy with his partner [Courtesy of Sam Everingham]”The sector is under a lot of pressure internationally,” said Sam Everingham, global director of prominent Sydney-based surrogacy networking organization Growing Families.

“After the war broke out in Ukraine, fertility programs shut down for about six months, and then clinics slowly reopened,” said Everingham, who had two daughters with his same-sex partner through surrogacy more than a decade ago.

Meanwhile, many Ukrainian surrogates moved to northern Cyprus, Greece and Georgia, putting pressure on those smaller countries that lack strong legal and regulatory frameworks, he told Al Jazeera.

“Now we are dealing with the situation in Greece, while the cost of surrogacy for intended parents is increasing worldwide.”

Global Surrogacy Sector

Commercial surrogacy is a procedure that first became possible in the United States about 30 years ago to assist couples who are unable to conceive naturally. However, commercial surrogacy is still illegal in many European countries.

Ukraine and Georgia are among the countries where for-profit companies are legally permitted to do business.

Although it’s difficult to get exact numbers, research shows that about 2,000 babies were born to surrogate mothers in Ukraine before the outbreak of war last year.

Denis Herman, legal adviser at medical center BioTexCom, one of Europe’s largest fertility clinics, which opened in Kiev in 2014, told Al Jazeera the early days following Russia’s all-out war in Ukraine were tough, but the company’s operations are now bouncing back the original level. war levels.

“From the 28th week of pregnancy, we ask surrogate mothers to come to Kiev, but after the invasion it was difficult to bring mothers from the eastern parts of Ukraine and from separatist regions safely here,” he said.

“There were many checkpoints to be passed and we had one case where a mother was stopped by Russian soldiers at a final checkpoint. The surrogate mother had to buy groceries in the nearest village, where she stayed for a few days. She later managed to be evacuated by another team of volunteers.”

Medical Center BioTexCom, one of the largest fertility clinics in Europe [Courtesy of BioTexCom]Herman said there were also hurdles for foreign parents who, despite the risks, have sought the services in the war-torn country.

BioTexCom’s surrogacy packages start at €39,000 ($41,816).

“There were many challenges for our intended parents as babies were born every day and not all parents could travel to Ukraine. A couple of couples from Europe came to visit us with their own cars and supplies of petrol as there was a huge shortage at the time,” Herman said.

Integrating tools adopted during the coronavirus pandemic, such as using the digital space to sustain the process, has helped the clinic get back to work.

“More than 600 babies have been born since the invasion. Now everything works like before.”

Georgia has absorbed some of the foreign clientele, a reverberation that analysts say despite the resumption of Ukrainian services continues to impact the surrogacy sector in Ukraine and beyond.

“As Georgia has been unable to meet this increased demand since the outbreak of war, this now means increased pressure on places like Canada and the US that have reliable programs and increased uptake of programs in emerging markets.” , like Argentina, Mexico and even Uganda,” Everingham said.

Analysts say that as surrogacy among couples becomes more prevalent, it’s about time governments around the world started to regulate the industry and step up protections.

“Providers need to be asked some tough questions about what they’re doing to care for surrogates, and gaps need to be filled at the country level to ensure parents are protected from doing desperate things,” Everingham said.

Back in Georgia, surrogate Elena said if the Georgian government enforced the ban, she would see women emigrate.

“It would make me really sad if they actually passed a new law banning surrogacy for foreign patients,” she said.

“In my opinion, this is more discrimination than a valid bill. Everyone has the right to have a child and nationality doesn’t matter. “Patients respond to kindness with kindness and it’s a really great feeling to be able to fulfill the dreams of couples who have been waiting for a child for a long time,” added Elena.

Elena* decided to speak to Al Jazeera on condition of anonymity.