Surrogate motherhood -- the process of a woman carrying a baby to term for another couple -- has been controversial since it's become more popular (and more often done for money rather than as a favor for friends or relatives) in recent decades.

A few years back, there were some high-profile lawsuits in which surrogate mothers, after being financially supported through the pregnancy by the people who'd hired them, wanted to keep the babies they'd gestated. The media, of course, played the tearful don't-take-my-baby-away angle to the hilt.

Other people fear that widespread popularity of surrogacy could damage women's rights, or could result in yet more exploitation of the poor. Still others argue against surrogacy on moral grounds, claiming it turns parenting into a matter of convenience and money rather than love. The most ferocious moral objections are voiced by those who argue that surrogacy, along with all other reproductive technologies, goes against God's will.

In a way, for-hire surrogacy could be seen as a sort of "pure" version of prostitution: in exchange for money, a woman lets others use her body in a function that has traditionally occured within the boundaries of marriage.

The fear of some women that an increase in surrogacy might reduce women to once again being considered nothing more than walking wombs is well-taken. But I think this prediction is overly gloomy; after all the social and political advances of the past century, I don't think a little neoprostitution will close the door on women's rights.

But the argument that surrogacy might end up being something that poor women are essentially forced into is a good point. After all, it seems to be mostly poor women who go into the usual sort of prostitution and who end up in scut work jobs. I can easily visualize a near future in which rich women, actresses, models, female athletes and executives hire young, heathy minority women with wide hips to gestate their embryos to avoid the horrors of weight gain and stretch marks.

To me, the moral dilemma of non-parenting parents is moot, since the well-to-do have always had the option of foisting their babies off on wetnurses, nannies, and sundry other live-in babysitters. Children of wealthy families in the Victorian Era (and the kids of some wealthy families today) hardly spent much time being parented by anyone but their parent's employees. I fail to see how being separated from a birth mother would warp a child any more than the time-honored nanny practice does.

Sidenote: CzarKhan says: Actually, that whole being raised by a nanny thing is really detrimental to some children. I was raised by a nanny and it has helped me to do nothing but resent my parents.

But I can see more benefits to surrogacy than freeing some women from the physical burden of pregnancy and birth. I think that surrogacy might actually be a good livelihood for clean-living women in work-at-home fields that bring in little money, such as female writers, artists, and artisans.

Take a female poet, for instance. Poetry doesn't pay the square root of diddly divided by squat. All poets need "day jobs" to support themselves. Assuming that surrogates are supported by the legal parents during the pregnancy, a surrogate/poet would have much more time to write than if she had to hold a conventional job. And the hormonal fluctuations caused by the pregnancy might give a creative boost, or at least topical inspiration. And the postpartum depression of giving up the baby might be more grist for the poetic mill.