Primetime pro-life: “It’s not your choice.” CBS ‘Good Wife’ tackles problems with surrogacy

Pregnant woman

In an unusually unbiased look at life values, this week’s episode of The Good Wife (entitled “A Precious Commodity“) tackled the difficult issues that face surrogate motherhood. The episode featured a couple who entered into contract with a hired surrogate to gestate the child created with their own sperm and egg.

When, after two rounds of amniocentesis in the second trimester, the unborn baby boy is diagnosed with Patau syndrome (Trisomy 13), a chromosomal disorder, the biological parents insist that the surrogate mother (Tara) pursue an abortion per the established terms of their surrogacy agreement. However, convinced that the 15% chance that the baby will survive is enough to preserve his life, and skeptical that the syndrome was a misdiagnosis, Tara refuses to terminate the pregnancy.

Outraged, the biological parents take Tara to court, citing a breach of contract. The following exchange takes place between Tara and Alicia, the lawyer-protagonist of The Good Wife, who personally believes that Tara should abort but feels obligated to represent Tara’s own interests:

Tara: I can feel him kicking. 
Alicia: He has birth defects. I know it feels like he’s healthy, but he’ll be in pain when he’s born and he won’t survive.
Tara: He has a 15% chance. That’s what the doctor said.
Alicia: That’s not a real chance.
Tara: My parents said I had a 10% chance of getting into DePaul, but I’m here.
Alicia: Tara, it’s not your baby.
Tara: And you’re not my lawyer.
Alicia: Yes, but I represent the surrogate’s interests.
Tara: Then start. 

Convicted to stand behind Tara although she personally disagrees, Alicia becomes a stalwart advocate against the forced abortion of the baby Tara is carrying. The biological parents, who had previously lost a six-month-old baby who was born with a heart defect, staunchly pursue the forced abortion of their unborn child. Their lawyer argues that Tara has no say in the decision, since “[t]hat fetus is wholly my client’s genetic material. Their egg, their sperm. The only one who gets to choose is the actual mother.”

Kathy, the biological (“actual”) mother, states that the decision is not Tara’s, since Tara is only a surrogate. Kathy mocks Tara’s hope for the baby, emphasizing the fact that she is not a doctor. Kathy, who identifies herself as pro-choice in the episode, argues that Tara’s body (and ultimately, that of her own child), was placed at Kathy’s disposal per the surrogacy contract:

Tara is not the mother. I’m the mother… Yes, it’s her body, but she has agreed to subject her body to my needs as a mother. The mother. That’s what this contract was. This is about my choice, not hers.

But Tara insists that the baby – who is thought to be in the late second trimester of development – doesn’t deserve to have a legitimate chance at life snuffed out. A grueling legal battle ensues, and ultimately the judge must decide whether Kathy’s “right to choose” as the biological mother or Tara’s “right to control her own body” as the surrogate will win out.

Alicia looks into the case, and it is discovered that before the baby was implanted in Tara, Kathy’s embryo had been grown in a petri dish for two weeks. As a result, Tara is actually in the third trimester, and the judge rules that, per mandates in Roe v. Wade, a third-trimester abortion will not be enforced. (This is because, in 1973, when Roe was handed down by the Supreme Court, viability was believed to occur no earlier than the third trimester.)

Meanwhile, word about the controversial abortion case travels around the law firm, and various lawyers betray their pro-life or pro-abortion convictions in passing conversation. One pro-life lawyer is accused of holding his views solely because “he has to,” as a Republican. He replies, “I’m not a Republican. I just look at photos of fetuses and think, how can we flush them down the drain?” A female lawyer who advocates abortion rights quips, “If men could get pregnant, abortion would be a sacrament.”

The Good Wife has a solid history of abortion support. Diane Lockhart (Christine Baranski), a main character, frequently speaks at feminist conventions and advocates the abortion  rights efforts of the political organization Emily’s List. Sunday’s episode was a refreshing display of arguments used by both sides in the abortion debate. Ultimately, the episode concluded with Kathy accusing Tara of downright selfishness for “forcing” her to raise a baby likely to be born with birth defects and a terminal diagnosis. But Tara insists that Kathy’s heart would soften if she would place her hand on Tara’s belly to feel their son kicking. Indignant, Kathy refuses and walks away.

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