Op-Ed

The strange case of surrogacy, sexual harassment and The Handmaid’s Tale

Why does the strange case of Congressman Trent Franks remind us of “The Handmaid’s Tale”?
Why does the strange case of Congressman Trent Franks remind us of “The Handmaid’s Tale”?

For the past week, the political rumor mill has been churning that Republican Congressman Trent Franks’ time in office would soon come to a close.

On Thursday night, the Republican representative from Arizona put the speculation to rest when he announced in a statement that he would resign from office at the end of January

But after Politico confronted him about additional allegations on Friday, the congressman bumped up his timeline, effectively resigning immediately.

The reason, he said, was his wife’s hospitalization.

The low-key eight-term lawmaker was reportedly given an ultimatum by Speaker Paul Ryan after revelation of his part in one of the most unusual sexual misconduct causes.

Multiple female staffers, current and past, have come forward saying that they had been propositioned by Franks. But it wasn’t your typical proposition.

One former staffer told the Associated Press that the staunchly conservative congressman solicited her at least four times to serve as his surrogate, offering as much as $5 million. The congressman wanted her to carry a child to term for him and his wife. What?

Franks has denied only the money offer part of the allegations, Politico said.

In what sounds like the plotline of the hugely popular “The Handmaid’s Tale,” a streaming TV series (adapted from a Margaret Atwood book) about a dystopian future where an elite caste of Christian fundamentalists with barren wives systematically rape their eponymous servants to bear their children, we have yet to witness this form of harassment in the post-Harvey Weinstein fallout.

Franks and his wife, Josephine, have reportedly struggled to conceive.

In his Thursday night statement, the 60-year-old revealed that his wife had suffered three miscarriages.

While they already have twins via a surrogate, Franks said that “the process by which they were conceived was a pro-life approach that did not discard or throw away any embryos.”

The biggest irony of this is that Franks is deeply against all abortions and does not believe in traditional in vitro fertilization (IVF) procedures. In Franks’ statement, he indicates that his twins were born using a gestational surrogate who was not genetically related to his children.

That means that the couple must have used IVF, yet the anti-abortion Louisiana Right to Life Federation argues, as many similar organizations do, that gestational surrogacy and IVF result in “many unborn babies that are sacrificed for the sake of the healthy children,” because of the creation of multiple embryos.

That statement is obviously only accurate if you consider conception the beginning of human life — a viewpoint that is not recognized by the medical or scientific communities.

Franks released a second statement on Friday. “Last night, my wife was admitted to the hospital in Washington, D.C. due to an ongoing ailment,” Franks said.

“After discussing options with my family, we came to the conclusion that the best thing for our family now would be for me to tender my previous resignation effective today, Dec. 8th, 2017.”

This all came down on a week when Frank was the third lawmaker to announce a resignation after being accused of sexual misconduct, following Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., and Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn.

But Franks strange accusation is by far the most eye-raising. Why would a U.S. congressman recruit female staffers to carry his child? He made it clear in his statement that he would not be personally involved in the process.

More seriously, the entire affair raises the question of how exactly did the congressman view his female staffers?

Nicole Karlis is a news writer at Salon. This article has been supplemented with new information.

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