This week’s readings discussed reproductive technologies in the perspective of motherhood. The reading by Rothman, specifically, critiqued surrogacy from a feminist point of view, while distinguishing the critique from the religious point of view. Rothman mentions the term patriarchy to make the distinction – due to the essential social relationship of the father and son that underlies the patriarchy, women are described in relation to men. For example, when “women bear the children of men” (Rothman, 1600). The matter of control is also discussed, as men may implant their seed in women, but they then lose control of that seed and must control the woman in order to control the seed (Rothman, 1600).
In the case of surrogacy, patriarchal notions are present – children are defined as legitimate based on the father. The mother’s own role does not matter, like in the biblical case of Abraham, Sarah, and Haagar. Although the child borne is not Sarah’s, the child is fundamentally defined by the relationship with Abraham. The privilege of claiming children is extended to women only to a point congruous to men. Women’s claim of children does not emerge from the foundation that the children grew in their own bodies, but that the child retains half of the woman’s genetic material. Rothman describes surrogacy as serving women’s interests only some of the time, as surrogacy typically depends on how privileged men and women may be.
The Baby M case, a surrogacy case which Rothman worked on where the surrogate mother changed her mind about keeping the baby after giving birth, was compared to a man walking into a bar, seducing a religious girl who would not have an abortion, supplying her with basic maternity goods, and then taking the child away from the girl (Rothman, 1602). Baby M highlighted the notion that children’s social relationship with the father are given priority when, at the end of the case, custody was given to the father. Women being able to gain custody of children has typically had some relation to how the father of those children were reacting in that same situation. If, for example, a man wanted the child, then he would gain custody of the child.
Rothman concluded that surrogacy and reproductive technologies could not be considered in the same manner for men and women, as each group has a very different experience of the same occurrence. Pregnancy, for women, is continuous from conception itself as women, while pregnancy, for men, is only present when the egg is fertilized. The social relationship of pregnancy itself should, therefore, be considered when deliberating kinship. Rothman’s argument was compelling and pregnancy should be regarded as an important social relationship, but the argument itself represents only some women and disregards those who are infertile and wish to have a child. Rothman herself maintains that not all infertile people should have to turn to adoption for a solution, but then what solution remains for these infertile women?
Meilaender approaches the topic of reproductive technologies with perspectives previously taken by Protestant ethicists. The story of Abraham, Sarah, and Haagar is mentioned in this reading as well, but only in how it emphasizes the importance of procreation. McDowell suggests that surrogacy, based on biblical themes, is misplaced compassion or “compassion gone awry” (Meilaender, 1638). Surrogacy, according to McDowell, does not illustrate the loving commitment of a couple nor the intention to care for a child conceived purposely. It instead emphasizes that a child can be created for the mere purpose of giving to someone else. Simmons biblical analysis differs from McDowell, as he thinks that the concept of surrogacy allows for children to be recognized as the gift they are by parents who can truly appreciate and care for them. These two viewpoints summarize the theological duality of finitude and freedom that are later deliberated on in the reading as central to Protestant thought of reproductive technologies. The reading emphasized the vastly differing perspectives that can be taken when considering religious texts. Conclusions in the reading did not matter as much as approaches did to elaborate on the patterns of thought.
The ethnography by Seeman et al. followed homeless, primarily African American, mothers in the United States. Most of the mothers did not become pregnant deliberately and cited the pregnancy as a factor contributing to their homelessness, but they also had an inclination to describe motherhood as a positive force or a “blessing.” Such a description can demonstrate a vernacular religious concept, or a religious nuance that affects the distinction between the intentions of pregnancy. The methods of the ethnography in the urban shelter Naomi’s House included observations, interviews of residents and staff members, and a focus group where residents where asked about the decisions they had taken for their reproductive health.
The shelter emphasized strict rules for their residents stressing personal responsibility and planning. Such planning was not necessarily taken in by the residents, as they were unable to make a specific plan when given a hypothetical situation where both a night job and day job was offered. Although the residents insisted that they had to take both jobs, they could not formulate a plan to do so; however, the insistence matched the concept of persevering “with God’s help, despite serious obstacles” (Seeman et al., 33). The residents also did not idealize their situation in Naomi’s House, but did compare it to much worse situations which allowed them to view their pregnancies positively. In fact, motherhood was utilized as a reason for why these women bettered themselves and achieved something. Even Diana, one of the few women who had not used the word blessing to describe her pregnancy, still cited her pregnancy as a positive turning point in her life. The spirituality and religious perspectives of these cases are closely tied, and the perspectives are internalized in the residents.
The residents discussed their fear of side effects and the poverty which influenced their use of birth control and inevitably led to their pregnancies. A negative attitude toward medical professionals also influenced their reluctance to discuss their reproductive health with these professionals. These factors and the internalized vernacular religious concepts of the residents of Naomi’s House emphasized the importance of ethnographic research and cannot be taken out of concept. Other homeless women may consider the agencies that affect their pregnancies in a completely different manner. In this specific ethnography, the agencies the affected the rational choice of many of the residents had to do with a religious discourse.