A draft on family and population planning released by the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress on December 21 reiterated that surrogate pregnancy remains banned in China. Its strong wording set off angry discussions online, and a day later the line about surrogacy vanished from the draft.
Zhang Chunsheng, director general at the law office of the National Health and Family Planning Commission, said the law was still under revision on account of committee members’ “conflicting opinions.”
“Most people think that surrogacy should be banned. But people will probably still find other ways to do it if they really want to,” Zhang said.
Laws related to assisted reproductive technology and sperm banks date back to 2001 and empower the government to ban surrogacy and restrict the sale of sperm and eggs.
The rapid rise of singles in major cities and an opening of family planning policies has led to a boom in reproductive tourism abroad. Business is booming for fertility agencies since 2016.
Typical clients include couples who lost their only child, couples struggling to have a second child, lesbian couples and single women. Single women are the majority of clients, and most sign up to freeze their eggs.
In China, freezing eggs is strictly controlled. According to the National Health and Family Planning Commission, assisted reproductive technology is off limits to all couples who violate the family planning law. Married women must submit a marriage certificate, birth permit, infertility certificate or treatment request issued by a licensed hospital.
Wang Hongxia, an officer at the Population Research Center of the Shanghai Academy of Social Science, told The New York Times last year that the Chinese government has taken a strict approach to assisted reproduction technology even when it deprives some women of the right to give birth.
Many who the government views as “too old” or beyond the best age to have a second child are denied access. Left with few legal options at home, many couples opt to head abroad.
Nevertheless, domestic surrogacy services exist. According to a report by inewsweek.cn, surrogate mothers earned about 50,000 yuan from their clients in 2004. That pay ballooned to 200,000 yuan over the next decade.
Although surrogacy is prohibited in China, some medical care agencies secretly contact fertility departments or doctors to provide the illegal service. Some agencies package their services for rich women who do not want to suffer the pain of pregnancy and delivery.
Most surrogate mothers often come from poor areas and choose the work of bearing others’ children to settle family debts. During the first three months of the pregnancy they are paid relatively little. Later, they are required to stay in bed and denied contact with the outside world.
Many women who choose to become surrogate mothers also face the danger of having more than two babies and clients who demand an abortion if the child they are carrying turns out to be a girl.
Xue Jun, a professor of law at Peking University, said that although the sperm and eggs belong to the couple, the process of pregnancy and delivery often leads to disputes between the mother and the couple.
Wang Yifang, an associate professor of human studies at Peking University Health Science Center, said surrogate pregnancies should be undertaken with strict supervision. Families who lose their only child and couples with fertility problems should consider surrogacy as one of the ways to combat their problems, he said.