Ads that target young women

Some young women are relentlessly solicited for their eggs and wombs.

It's possible that you've never been sent one of these ads. I haven't. But if you're a young woman, aged somewhere between 19 and 35, you may get them a few times a week — ads trying to persuade you to part with your eggs or lend your womb. 

They come via social media — Facebook, Twitter, Instagram — and are usually marked "promoted," meaning someone paid to have them delivered. If you click on "Why am I seeing this ad?" or something equivalent, you may learn that it's because you're female, speak English, are a certain age and live near Toronto. (That was the case with one of the egg donor ads below.) 

Other things you do online — what you've been googling, where you've been shopping, or what lists you are on — might also mark you. One woman told me she started receiving ads about egg donation and surrogacy after learning that she'd been conceived with donor sperm. She'd been reading online about sperm donation and had ordered DNA testing kits. "I do remember being confused because I was older than what the ads said was the eligible age," she said.

Another woman started receiving them after doing research for a university course she was taking. "Most focused on paying off student debts or were targeted at Chinese and/or Asian donors," she told me in an email.

One woman had been a surrogate a few times, another had been googling baby names for her fiction. For some, though, just being young and female seems to be enough to put them in the bullseye. 

The lure is not just the good deed itself. "Do you love to travel? Becoming an Egg Donor can be such a fun way to travel to Toronto for free (all expenses paid)...," reads one ad. It's a bit at odds with what they say in their brochure, about bringing along a support person, because " will be feeling pretty crummy after and we don’t want you walking, biking or taking transit by yourself. If you’re flying, we recommend you fly back the day following the retrieval." 

Then there is the talk of money. "You can receive a reimbursement up to $5000 per donation..." says a Canadian ad. This implies a single flat-fee payment, which would not be legal in Canada. This particular ad was shared with me before the new regulations on reimbursement came into force, but the website is not much different, suggesting that costs for things like clothing and communications can be reimbursed to egg donors — they can't — and that reimbursements typically add up to more than $5000 — which is unlikely if you live in Toronto and donate at a Toronto clinic. One surrogacy ad, sent in the US, promises women will earn "at least $40k" which they could use to "travel, buy a house, pay off debt."

As the parent of two daughters, aged 19 and 17, I feel more strongly now than ever that targeting women in their late teens and early twenties to donate eggs or carry other people's babies is not ethical. The word "prey" comes to mind. Dangling all-expenses-paid travel or reimbursed meals — let alone "$5000+" or "$40k" — in exchange for gametes or pregnancy feels underhanded. 

I'm currently of the mind that women should be 25 or older before they make these important decisions. And they should understand in a meaningful way what they are entering into.  

Below, I offer a small selection of ads.

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