Home Art ‘This will really make me sad’: Georgia considers banning commercial surrogacy | Women’s rights

‘This will really make me sad’: Georgia considers banning commercial surrogacy | Women’s rights

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

With her own daughter requiring expensive medical treatments and therapies to treat a health issue, Elena found working as a surrogate mother a good way to provide for her family.

“The surrogacy program has helped me a lot with all of my daughter’s medical expenses and other household expenses. It was a real relief for the whole family,” she told Al Jazeera.

Yet this source of income could soon be cut off for Elena and other surrogates in Georgia if the government’s proposed ban aimed at preventing foreign couples from accessing commercial surrogacy services in the country is put into effect. work next year as planned.

Announcing the proposed ban in June, Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili said the ban was necessary to protect both surrogate mothers and children and prevent human trafficking.

He also said it was necessary to ensure that babies do not end up in same-sex couples, in violation of Georgian law.

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

The bill provides compensation for costs related to medical examinations or work. If approved, the bill, which will also ban advertising for surrogacy services, will come into force on January 1 next year.

The war in Ukraine

Analysts say the move comes amid increased pressure on the surrogacy sector after Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine last February, which caused a brief slowdown in surrogacy operations. substitution in this war-torn country. Before the war, Ukraine was considered the largest surrogacy center in Europe.

Polina Vlasenko, a postdoctoral researcher in reproductive mobilities at Indiana University who conducted field research in Georgia before the coronavirus pandemic, told Al Jazeera that the expected ban was part of a more political agenda. broad of the Georgian conservative government.

“This is also partly due to populism and the government trying to tailor its policies to voters and what society expects of it on some very sensitive issues, like surrogacy,” she said. declared.

“But if this comes to fruition, it will be the surrogate mothers who suffer. Instead of providing them with better protections and safety arrangements, the government decides to ban this entire practice, which basically takes away their jobs,” Vlasenko added.

More broadly, it is the latest development in an already precarious sector that has been hit by the war in Ukraine as well as alleged 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 has left a number of expectant parents and babies in legal limbo.

Sam Everingham had two daughters through surrogacy with her partner (Courtesy of Sam Everingham)

“There is a lot of pressure on the sector internationally,” said Sam Everingham, global director of the prominent Sydney-based surrogacy networking organization Growing Families.

“After the war broke out in Ukraine, the fertility programs were closed for about six months and then the clinics slowly reopened,” said Everingham, who had two daughters with her same-sex partner through surrogacy there. more than ten years ago.

Meanwhile, many Ukrainian surrogates have moved to Northern Cyprus, Greece and Georgia, putting pressure on these small countries which lack strong legal and regulatory frameworks, he told Al Jazeera .

“Now we are faced with the situation in Greece, while for intended parents we see that the costs of surrogacy are increasing globally. »

Global surrogacy industry

A procedure that became possible in the United States about 30 years ago to help couples who cannot conceive naturally. Commercial surrogacy remains illegal in many European countries.

Ukraine and Georgia are among the countries where for-profit companies are legally allowed to operate.

Although precise figures are difficult to obtain, research shows that around 2,000 babies were born in Ukraine to surrogate mothers before the outbreak of war last year.

Denis Herman, legal advisor to BioTexCom Medical Center, one of Europe’s largest fertility clinics opened in Kiev in 2014, told Al Jazeera that the initial period after Russia’s all-out war in Ukraine had been difficult, but that the company’s operations had currently returned to their previous state. war levels.

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

“There were a lot of checkpoints to go through and we had one case where a mother was stopped at a final checkpoint by Russian soldiers. The surrogate mother had to buy food from the nearest village, where she stayed for a few days. She then managed to be evacuated by another team of volunteers.

BioTexCom Medical Center, one of the largest fertility clinics in Europe (Courtesy of BioTexCom)

Herman said there were also obstacles for prospective foreign parents who, despite the risks, sought services from the war-torn country.

The cost of BioTexCom’s surrogacy packages starts at 39,000 euros ($41,816).

“Our future parents had to face many difficulties, because babies were born every day and not all parents had the opportunity to go to Ukraine. Some couples from Europe visited us with their own car and their own supply of gasoline, because at the time there was a big shortage,” Herman said.

Integrating tools acquired during the coronavirus pandemic, such as using the digital space to continue the process, helped the clinic return to work.

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

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

“With Georgia unable to keep up with this increased demand since the start of the war, this now means increased pressure on countries with reliable programs like Canada and the United States, and increased participation in programs in the countries that are somewhat emerging. , like Argentina, Mexico and even Uganda,” Everingham said.

Analysts say that as surrogacy becomes more common among couples, it is time for governments around the world to start regulating the sector and strengthening protections.

“Some difficult questions need to be asked of providers about what they do to care for surrogate mothers and gaps need to be filled nationally to ensure parents are protected from desperate acts,” Everingham said.

Back in Georgia, surrogate mother Elena said that if the Georgian government implemented the ban, she would see women emigrating.

“It would make me really sad if they 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 does not matter. Patients respond to kindness with kindness and it is a truly amazing feeling to be able to make the dreams of couples who have been waiting for a child for a long time come true,” Elena added.

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

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