There has been much heated rhetoric over the past several days as people react to the news that the FBI shut down an international baby trafficking ring operating out of the United States. Sadly, there has been whispers, innuendo and unfair criticisms leveled against the surrogates who were caught up in this criminal enterprise.
Make no mistake about it, these women were victims. As I posted yesterday, I initially elected to withhold any commentary on these unconscionable developments. My decision had nothing to do with an absence of strong feelings on the subject. Rather, it was because I know and have been representing the three surrogates who have worked with the FBI for more than a year to bring this baby selling ring to an end.
When the news broke about the guilty pleas, many rose to passionately defend some of those that plead guilty. The internet has been ablaze with defenders questioning how a surrogate could unwittingly find herself in such a situation. Some flat out accused these women of being complicit and intentionally ignorant. So while my original intention was to allow this to play out in the media without comment, someone has to give voice to these surrogates who have suffered so much. That is the purpose for this post.
The three women who courageously came forward and worked with the FBI are decent, law-abiding people who believed they were entering into legal arrangements. Like many surrogates I have had the good fortune to know, they are compassionate, altruistic and deeply motivated to help childless couples become parents. They did not seek out Erickson, Neiman or Chambers. They were actively solicited by Chambers as a result of contributory posts they made on an online surrogacy board. These women were duped into believing that the arrangements they were entering into were legal and customary.
Those with specialized knowledge and experience in the surrogacy industry might be skeptical that these surrogates were caught completely unaware. Like anyone, these women were inquisitive. They were introduced to former surrogates who had successful arrangements previously with these criminal defendants. But most compelling of all, they were introduced to two of the most prominent attorneys in this field, Theresa Erickson and Hillary Neiman. These lawyers had unblemished reputations with legions of loyal clients (Intended Parents and Surrogates alike). One was a media darling with two published books, celebrity clientele and memberships in the most prestigious professional and infertility organizations in the United States.
And that was the hook. This scam was able to operate and flourish because the linchpins were two well respected attorneys on both coasts that gave the criminal enterprise immediate and continuing legitimacy. When any surrogate questioned the propriety of the process, the absence of an initial contract or the need to travel to the Ukraine, they were immediately pointed in the direction of Neiman and Erikcson. Keep in mind that all of these surrogates were active members of Surromomsonline, the foremost resource community for surrogates, where Neiman and Erickson were consistently recognized as industry leaders.
The women who came forward and cooperated with the FBI do not deserve to be villified by an insidious whisper campaign by anonymous posters. They have suffered greatly. One almost died after suffering placental abruption during the second trimester of the pregnancy. Not only did she lose the baby and almost her life, but was left completely abandoned. No one to help her with the medical bills. No one to offer psychological counseling after the death of the baby. No one to even help cover the burial expenses for the child she lost. The other two surrogates never were compensated for the delivery of their babies — and never complained about it even though they had to absorb considerable expense and anxiety throughout the entire pregnancy. To have that grief exacerbated by a silent whsiper campaign by anonymous posters on the internet or surrogacy opponents capitalizing on this scandal, is abhorrent.
The moment these women learned there was something amiss in their arrangements, they immediately notified the authorities at great personal expense and potential legal risk to themselves. In fact, it was not until one of these surrogates was in the third trimester of her pregnancy and still had not been matched, that she finally ignored the reassurances of the three criminal defendants and sought out advice from independent attorneys.
For those that have accused this industry of not regulating itself, that too is a misplaced accusation. Three well-known and respected attorneys (whom I hope will step forward and be commended for their invaluable services) located across the United States, upon learning of what was occurring, took immediate action. Among other things, they reached out to the FBI and to my firm. After more than a year of non-stop investigation, the FBI and US Attorneys Office obtained the guilty pleas.
By the way, I would be remiss if I did not mention and commend the tireless work and dedication of the two FBI agents who were responsible for shutting down this baby trafficking ring. Without any clear federal statute that covered the underlying crimes, they doggedly pursued every angle and, using tremendous creativity, managed to ensure that justice was served, the surrogates protected and the babies placed in appropriate homes. While they have received no credit publicly, it would be a terrible disservice if their contributions were not recognized.
The vilification of these surrogates needs to end. Those that practice in this field are very cognizant of the opposition that exists to surrogacy domestically and abroad. In the best of situations, the motivations of surrogates are questioned as many cannot imagine how a woman could sacrifice herself (and her family) for the benefit of a childless couple (or individual) who are relative strangers to them. Surrogates are often disparagingly referred to as “rent-a-wombs”. Critics typically point to the financial reward and denigrate the altruistic motivations of these women. So it is beyond shameful that members of the infertility community would be complicit and question the integrity of these surrogates. It is for this reason that I have elected to now to speak out and have allowed my clients voices to be heard.
Over the next week, I will address other issues that have been raised by this scandal. Not the least of which is that this criminal racket, involving the commodification of babies, should not be misinterpreted as a surrogacy enterprise. In the meantime, I hope that my colleagues in this industry stand up and, with a unified voice, condemn what has occurred and correct the misinformation that is now rampant in the media and on the internet.