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True Exploitation Occurs When Options Are Artificially Reduced

I made a similar, yet more fleshed-out, argument nearly 30 years ago in the Cato Journal.

Editor, National Review

Wesley Smith’s arguments against legalization of surrogacy motherhood fail (“Thailand Plans to Reopen Exploitive Commercial Surrogacy Industry,” March 2). Each of the abuses that he alleges attend some surrogate-motherhood situations can be prohibited without outlawing surrogacy itself.

More fundamentally, it’s certainly true that only women whose best option is to serve as surrogate mothers will choose to serve as surrogate mothers. It might also be true that all of the women who choose this option are poor. But contrary to Mr. Smith’s argument, these women are exploited not by allowing them to choose this option but, instead, by denying them this option. Stripping adult women of the right to choose to serve as surrogate mothers compels them to choose options that are, for them, worse. Although inadvertent, the advocate of exploitation here is Mr. Smith.

Mr. Smith attempts to escape this logic by rhetorically asking a non-rhetorical question: “But couldn’t the same be said of workers exploited for low pay in sweatshop conditions to make our running shoes, or of the exploitation of Congolese women and children who mine cobalt for use in rechargeable batteries?” First, the case for legalized surrogacy applies to women, not children. Second, the answer to this question for adults is ‘yes.’ Adults whose best option is to work in sweatshop conditions improve their lives by choosing this option, for that is why they choose it. If this option were stripped away from them they would be forced to fall back on options that are even more difficult, dangerous, degrading, or otherwise unenviable.

It is wrong to reduce the range of peaceful options open to people – and especially to poor people. And as Mr. Smith writes, “wrong is wrong.”

Donald J. Boudreaux
Professor of Economics
Martha and Nelson Getchell Chair for the Study of Free Market Capitalism at the Mercatus Center
George Mason University
Fairfax, VA 22030