The first thing we need to do is stop calling Mary Beth Whitehead a “surrogate” mother. She is the mother! Mrs. Whitehead possesses the same attributes of motherhood as does your mother or mine--she went through nine months of pregnancy culminating in the pains of childbirth.
Men in patriarchal/patrilineal societies have historically had an exaggerated sense of the importance of their “seed.” Men in 20th-Century America are no exception. Women’s bodies have historically been viewed as mere incubators or vessels for the growth of men’s seed. Women’s role in the procreative process has systematically been downplayed in societies such as ours.
Contrary to the above belief, however, we now know that women too have seed. And, in addition to providing seed, women’s bodies nurture the growth and development of the seed into human life. Women’s bodies also guide the final process through which new life enters the world. Mrs. Whitehead did all of these things. What then did Mr. Stern do? Mr. Stern contributed his seed. The fact that the rights of Mrs. Whitehead and Mr. Stern are actually being compared shows the degree to which our society’s thought is dominated by patriarchal values.
The implications of the Whitehead-Stern lawsuit are enormous, though not altogether obvious. The context that this lawsuit will reach extend far beyond the “surrogate parent” situation. What is really at issue here are the rights of mothers (who have gone through pregnancy and childbirth) as compared with the rights of “seed.”
One context this lawsuit will reach is the casual sex situation. What will be the relative rights of the seed-contributor after, for example, a one-night stand? Most often the seed-contributor never shows up again. Fatherhood is usually the last thing on his mind. What if the seed-contributor shows up years later and demands rights to the child?
If the Whitehead-Stern lawsuit is decided in favor of the Sterns, and “seed rights” are elevated above mother’s rights, this common scenario could have disastrous results for all concerned.
My belief is that up until the moment of childbirth, only the mother has rights to the child. Fathers’ rights, if any, should begin at childbirth, and should be based upon actual demonstrated commitment to the child. As to the Sterns and the Whiteheads, my only hope is that the honorable jurist will be able to reach beyond the omnipresent doctrines of the patriarchy, and make a fair decision.