Pope Francis urges universal ban on surrogate motherhood, calling it 'despicable'

  • Pope Francis has called for a universal ban on surrogate motherhood, describing it as a “despicable” practice and criticizing the “commercialization” of pregnancy.
  • The Pope emphasized the need to protect unborn children and opposed the exploitation of women in vulnerable situations.
  • While the Vatican opposes commercial surrogacy, it allows the baptism of children born through surrogacy to same-sex parents.

Pope Francis called Monday for a universal ban on what he called the “despicable” practice of surrogate motherhood, as he included the “commercialization” of pregnancy in an annual speech listing threats to global peace and human dignity.

In a foreign policy address to ambassadors accredited to the Holy See, Francis lamented that 2024 had dawned at a time in which peace is “increasingly threatened, weakened and in some part lost.”

Citing Russia’s war in Ukraine, the Israel-Hamas war, migration, climate crises and the “immoral” production of nuclear and conventional weapons, Francis delivered a list of the ills afflicting humanity and the increasing violation of international humanitarian law that allows them.

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But Francis also listed smaller-scale issues that he said were threats to peace and human dignity, including surrogacy. He said the life of the unborn child must be protected and not “suppressed or turned into an object of trafficking.”

Pope Francis attends audience

Pope Francis attends his weekly general audience in the Pope Paul VI hall at the Vatican. The Pope has called for a universal ban on the practice of surrogate motherhood in an annual speech listing the threats to global peace and human dignity on Jan. 8, 2024. (AP Photo/Andrew Medichini, File)

“I consider despicable the practice of so-called surrogate motherhood, which represents a grave violation of the dignity of the woman and the child, based on the exploitation of situations of the mother’s material needs,” he said.

Saying a child is a gift and “never the basis of a commercial contract,” he called for a global ban on surrogacy “to prohibit this practice universally.”

Francis has previously voiced the Catholic Church’s opposition to what he has called “uterus for rent.” At the same time, however, the Vatican’s doctrine office has made clear that same-sex parents who resort to surrogacy can have their children baptized.

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While commercial surrogacy contracts are common in the United States, including with protections for the mothers, guarantees of independent legal representation and medical coverage, they are banned in parts of Europe including Spain and Italy.

Russia’s war in Ukraine, and the threat to babies born to surrogate Ukrainian mothers, exposed the country’s thriving industry. Ukraine is one of the few countries that allow surrogacy for foreigners.

Critics say commercial surrogacy targets women who are poor and from vulnerable communities. Supporters say surrogacy gives women a chance to provide children to childless couples, and that commercial contracts protect both the surrogates and the intended parents.

In Italy, where surrogacy has been banned for years, the issue has emerged recently as the conservative government of Premier Giorgia Meloni has opposed registering both parents of children born via surrogacy overseas.

In his geopolitical roundup, Francis singled out Russia by name in noting the “large-scale war waged by the Russian Federation against Ukraine.” It marked an unusual break with Francis’ usual tendency to spare Moscow direct, public blame for the invasion when expressing solidarity with the Ukrainian people.

Francis was more balanced in his lament of Israel’s ongoing war in Gaza, condemning Hamas’ Oct. 7 assault on southern Israel “and every instance of terrorism and extremism.” At the same time, he said the attack provoked a “strong Israeli military response” that had left thousands dead and created a humanitarian crisis in Gaza.

He called for an immediate cease-fire, including in Lebanon, and the liberation of hostages held in Gaza, and reiterated the Holy See’s position seeking a two-state solution for Israel and the Palestinians and an internationally guaranteed special status for Jerusalem.

In other comments, Francis:

— Lamented various humanitarian and refugee crises in Africa, and without naming names blasted military coups and elections in several African countries marked by “corruption, intimidation and violence.”

— Called for a “respectful diplomatic dialogue” with the Nicaraguan government to resolve what he called a “protracted crisis.” The government’s crackdown on the Catholic Church has resulted in the detention of dozens of priests and bishops. The government has accused the church of aiding popular protests against his administration that he considered an attempted coup.

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— Called for the resumption, as early as possible, of Iran nuclear talks “to ensure a safer future for all.” Last month, the International Atomic Energy Agency said Iran had increased the rate at which it is producing near-weapons-grade uranium, reversing a previous slowdown.

Francis also said that the “manufacturing” of nuclear weapons was just as immoral as the possession and use of them. Francis has already changed church teaching to include the possession of nuclear weapons as inadmissible, but on Monday he included the production of such weapons as part of his overall criticism of the weapons industry.

“Perhaps we need to realize more clearly that civilian victims are not ‘collateral damage’ (of war) but men and women, with names and surnames, who lost their lives,” he said. “They are children who are orphaned and deprived of their future.”

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