Conservative Catholics and left-wing feminists often find each other on opposite sides of political debates, especially when it comes to what women should do with their bodies. Yet in Europe, there is a reproductive rights issue on which the Catholic Church, well-known for its staunch pro-life position, is finding common ground with pro-choice feminists: surrogacy.
The practice whereby a woman carries a pregnancy to term for third parties is legal in the United States and Canada, but not in most of Western Europe. Some countries, like France, Germany, Spain, Italy, and Sweden, have banned surrogacy outright. Others, such as the United Kingdom, don’t have specific laws against surrogacy, but recognize the woman who gives birth to a child as the legal mother, making any surrogate agreements unenforceable. The European Parliament rejected surrogacy in a 2015 non-binding resolution.
At a high-profile anti-surrogacy conference that took place inside Rome’s Lower House of Parliament last Thursday, one of Italy’s most prominent feminist organizations urged the United Nations to “ban the practice of surrogacy,” describing it as “incompatible with human rights and with the dignity of women.” The feminist organization, Se Non Ora Quando, gained international fame for organizing a massive 2011 protest against then-prime minister Silvio Berlusconi, and the group is well known at home for its pro-choice views. It was natural enough, then, that the conference should be attended by left-leaning feminists from Italy, Germany, France, and Sweden. But conservative Catholic politicians were also in attendance, and the conference was praised in the Catholic media, most notably by Avvenire, the newspaper owned by the episcopal conference of Italian bishops.