Who has the real rights here?

I came across this news story this morning. A woman facing financial difficulties decided to become a surrogate for a couple, and when it was discovered that the baby had several birth defects, the couple wanted her to abort. Rather than doing as they wished, she instead moved to another state, where she would be considered the baby’s mother, gave birth and gave the baby up for adoption.

I found this really interesting. I’m not yet sure how I feel about it, though.

I’m pro-choice. I firmly believe that a woman has the right to choose to abort her baby if she wants to (I personally could not, but it’s not my place to tell someone else they can’t). But the key to that is her baby. And that’s why I’m conflicted with this story.

First, let’s talk about the fact that she signed a contract in which she agreed to have an abortion in the case of “severe fetal abnormality.” Now, maybe the news didn’t have access to the details of the contract. But, if the wording is exactly as given, “severe fetal abnormality”, the first question would be: who decides what constitutes severe? Is it up to the couple who wanted the baby? The surrogate who is carrying the baby? The doctor caring for the surrogate? A judge? Without a clear definition of exactly what qualifies as a severe fetal abnormality, the entire situation started with the potential for disaster.

Let’s go beyond that, though. The main idea behind pro-choice attitudes boils down to “her body, her choice.” While this applies in the case of a pregnancy that results from sex or rape, I have to wonder if we can really apply it the same way when a woman is being paid to carry someone else’s baby? I’m not saying I think it’s no longer her body, but I think when you start taking money to allow someone else the use of your body in this way, is it all your choice what you do with it?

I understand that you cannot force someone to have an abortion. But at the same time, if you decide to carry a baby for someone else, and they want you to abort because of severe abnormalities, do you have the right to force them to continue as planned? Isn’t that the same as being forced to continue a pregnancy you don’t want, or to abort one you do want?

I considered the idea that maybe she was against abortion in general, or that she wasn’t really sure how she felt about it. But if that’s the case, then doesn’t it make sense that you shouldn’t sign a contract agreeing to have one – even if, at that moment, it seems like an incredibly remote, unlikely possibility?

What really stands out, though, is that she had financial problems and that’s why she wanted to be a surrogate to begin with. Which then made me wonder if she failed to read the contract in her eagerness to solve her financial troubles with the monthly stipend she’d be getting while pregnant. It does kind of seem very similar to those cases where people don’t read the fine print and then admit that when they’re slapped with a termination fee or even a lawsuit. But what’s really bothersome about this is that the parents offered her $10,000 to get the abortion. She refused.

Good for her, right? Wrong. Her refusal was not so much a “No, I won’t do it because my morals tell me I shouldn’t abort this beautiful baby no matter what might be wrong with it,” and more a “No, because $10,000 just isn’t enough.” She countered their offer with her own: she’d get the abortion if they coughed up $15,000. She claims she said it in a weak moment, and wouldn’t have aborted even if they had come up with the cash, but really? I’m not sure I believe her.

There were arguments, legal threats, and more as the surrogate and the parents fought it out. In the end, she basically ran away to another state so she could be the legal mother, then gave the baby up for adoption.

I’ve contemplated this story for several hours now, and I just can’t make up my mind. As a mother, I know how much I love my children, and that I would love them even if they’d been born with any kind of medical condition or birth defect. That part of me, the loving mother part, thinks that the surrogate did the right thing. The parents didn’t want the baby with its medical issues, and if she felt abortion was wrong, then she shouldn’t have done it. Fleeing so she could have the right to decide what happened to the baby seems like a good thing.

But then, the logical part of me, the part that reads the fine print on any contract I sign, thinks she signed a contract and doing what she did put her in breach of contract. She failed to live up to her contract by not aborting when the parents told her to. If she felt that abortion was wrong, or even just didn’t know what she felt, she shouldn’t have signed that contract in the first place. She should have read the contract more closely.

The one thing I think is clear from this story is that if people are entering into these contracts, to carry or receive a baby in surrogacy, they should be talking in depth about their expectations. And abortion should be brought up. Both parties need to be on the same page. Otherwise, as proven by this case, what could be a beautiful gift can turn into a horrible mess.

What do you think? Did the surrogate do the right thing? Should she have respected the parents wishes? Can you use an ironclad contract to control a situation as emotional and personal as something like surrogacy?