Georgia to ban surrogacy for foreigners
Over the years, the country has seen surging demand from foreign clients seeking surrogacy services.
Published by Eurasianet
by Nini Gabritchidze Jun 13, 2023
The Georgian authorities say they are prohibiting surrogacy services for foreigners, a decision that will bring to an end a booming industry into which numerous Georgian women have been pushed by economic hardship.
Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili announced on June 12 that in the future only Georgian citizens will be able to use surrogacy services in the country. The reasons cited include a number of safety concerns for both surrogate mothers and children, trafficking risks, but also fears that babies born to Georgian surrogate mothers are ending up – in contravention of Georgian law – with same-sex couples.
“There are reports that same-sex couples are picking up the babies born here and there can be countless problems,” said Garibashvili, who heads a government that has been getting increasingly conservative in recent years.
In a separate briefing, however, Health Minister Zurab Azarashvili focused on “unethical and bad practices” that arose due to lax surrogacy regulation.
These dangers include “child selling” and “organ trafficking,” Azarashvili said. “Since the issue was left unregulated, we were unable to track where these children were going.”
The minister also specified that foreigners will be banned from using both in vitro fertilization and surrogacy services in Georgia starting next year. A relevant bill will be tabled in parliament this week, he said.
Commercial surrogacy has been practiced in Georgia since the 2000s, and in recent years Georgia has become a prime location for receiving the service globally. Economic problems have pushed many women to provide the services for a fee, while relatively cheap prices made the country attractive to many foreigners (in 2020, Georgian officials said foreigners accounted for 98 percent of commercial clients).
Commercial surrogacy is banned in many Western countries, where it is considered a form of exploitation and child commodification. Recent bans on similar services to foreigners in previously key commercial surrogacy hotspots such as India and Russia (with the latter citing the same motives as Georgian authorities) redirected more customers to Georgia. So did the Russian full-scale invasion of Ukraine, which had been another leading surrogacy provider.
More clinics and agencies went to offer services in Georgia and ads to recruit surrogate mothers periodically reach phone inboxes offering $20,000-27,000 per pregnancy.
More such ads are placed online, linking to clinics or sometimes obscure agencies mainly looking for women 22-38 years of age and offering similar compensation plus coverage of medical expenses. Some agencies try to lure women with further perks such as free mental health and babysitting services, special privacy protection, or even a new iPhone. There are also those who offer or require relocation to another country, such as Albania, for the duration of their pregnancy.
Those who choose to become surrogate mothers are often women with families looking for money to cover their financial needs. In Georgia, the average salary for female employees is under $550 per month, while the median earnings are far lower. Fearing stigma, surrogate mothers often try to provide the service anonymously.
The ever-growing unregulated business has periodically raised concerns over the rights of surrogate mothers and children born through surrogacy. Georgia has considered ending commercial surrogacy over the years and introduced the first restrictions in 2020, limiting the services to heterosexual couples who have been married or otherwise lived together as a couple for at least a year.
And further concerns were voiced prior to the latest decision to fully outlaw the service for foreigners.
On the night before the official announcement, government mouthpiece Imedi TV aired a report alleging abuse of surrogate mothers and pointing at the need for urgent regulation of the procedure.
According to the channel, obscure agencies offering surrogacy services mistreated women, including forcing early birth in order to deny them full payment, leading to serious mental and physical health complications.
The piece also interviewed a representative of the Health Ministry, who cited a lack of mechanisms to track the health of surrogate mothers or protect the rights of beneficiaries, and also Georgia’s obligation under the Association Agreement with the EU to regulate the field.
While using surrogacy and IVF services will remain accessible for Georgian couples, the health minister hinted it might be only permitted on an altruistic rather than commercial basis.
“A Georgian citizen who wants to be a donor or surrogate must act within the altruism principle and only accept compensation for the inconvenience related to the process – either medical examinations or labor-related expenses,” Azarashvili told reporters on June 12.
The authorities also plan to restrict the placement of ads for the service.