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Creating families in the twenty-first century increasingly happens in markets where the buying and selling of reproductive goods and services are facilitated by advanced technologies, the internet, contracts, and state laws and policies. Thus, the title of this international congress—“Baby Markets”—aptly captures a key aspect of modern reproduction. The ability of potential parents to engage in market transactions involving children enhances parents’ autonomy over their family lives. The free market seems to liberate us from the constraints of biology and state control.

This Essay argues, however, that baby markets aren’t free. Three aspects of the way reproductive goods and services are bought and sold contradict the claim that this market is inevitably liberating. First, baby markets aren’t free because it costs money and resources to participate in them. This reality may be fine for those who can afford it, but it poses a potentially insurmountable obstacle for those who can’t. Second, apart from the obvious economic costs of the goods and services involved, baby markets aren’t free because they operate within a context of interlocking systems of race, gender, and disability oppression. Markets therefore impose tangible and intangible costs on parents and children who are devalued and marginalized by those systems and, in turn, by the markets themselves. Finally, baby markets aren’t free because they are just as susceptible to coercive practices as liberating ones. I am not arguing that no one benefits from baby markets. There are people who are able to take advantage of baby markets to achieve their reproductive goals. But the only way we can assess honestly the justice of baby markets is by stripping them of their false veneer of freedom for everyone.


Family law & policy, reproductive technology, inequality, social justice, genetic screening & selection, race, adoption

Publication Title

U.C. Irvine Law Review

Publication Citation

7 UC Irvine L. Rev. 611 (2017)