By Kaitlyn Schaeffer

Last August, Thailand gave preliminary approval to a draft law that would make commercial surrogacy a crime; parliament voted 160 to 2 to pass the measure on February 19.

The law bans foreigners from seeking surrogacy services in Thailand, a country that has long been a popular destination for first-world couples seeking affordable surrogates. The country’s previously unrestricted surrogacy market resulted in what the media dubbed a “rent-a-womb” industry, rife with exploitative practices and heartless activity.

2014 was a particularly scandalous year. A surrogate enlisted by an Australian couple became pregnant with twins; public outrage ensued when the couple left behind the male baby who suffered from Down syndrome. A Japanese man gained notoriety after it was discovered that he had fathered at least 16 children using Thai surrogates in a phenomenon that became known as the “baby factory.”

“This law aims to stop Thai women’s wombs from becoming the world’s womb. This law bars foreign couples from coming to Thailand to seek commercial surrogacy services,” explained Wanlop Tankanaurak, a member of Thailand’s National Legislative Assembly. Under this new legislation, anyone involved in commercial surrogacy risks up to ten years of jail time and fines of up to $6,100.

Now, only couples that are at least part Thai are allowed seek out Thai surrogates. Additionally, the hopeful parents must demonstrate that they and their relatives are infertile. Couples where only one partner is Thai must also be married for at least three years before they can hire Thai surrogates.

The law also includes measures to protect surrogates – it stipulates that Thai women can only be surrogates if they are over the age of 25; violators of this law risk a “severe prison sentence.” It is unclear, however, how much this will protect Thai women. The typical surrogate mother in Southeast Asia is married with children, uneducated, and impoverished.

Critics of the law worry that banning commercial surrogacy will not do away with these practices, but only push them underground.

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