Photo: Arteida Mjeshtri/Negative Space/Creative Commons

Last Friday, actress Gabrielle Union published an essay in TIME about her struggles with infertility and the difficult decision she made to enlist a surrogate to carry her baby. The essay is an unflinching, raw glimpse into her life. Union reveals that she still feels like she failed as a woman by needing a surrogate to have a baby of her own.

But one of the most shocking parts of Union’s essay is when she reveals that many families prefer “brown” people as surrogates — meaning Latina or South Asian women.

“On the message boards, people can be anonymous, so they rank surrogates by race,” Union wrote. “I got the sense a lot of white families-to-be were more comfortable with brown people as surrogates — Latina and South Asian — who were often classified as ‘breeders.'”

“Now, I am Black, and I am used to hearing how people speak of women of color,” she continued. “But this was some Handmaid’s Tale sh-t.” Agreed. The insight into the vocabulary that the online surrogate world uses to describe surrogate mothers is disturbing. Especially considering that the average couples employing surrogate women are white, and they’re often employing women of color.

The topic of pregnancy surrogacy is controversial. In June, feminists in Mexico condemned the Mexican government endorsing surrogacy after a long and contentious debate.

The pro-surrogacy side argues that it’s a beautiful way for couples dealing with infertility to bring their own babies into the world. Detractors say the practice dehumanizes women by commodifying their bodies, which they compare to human trafficking. And if Gabrielle Union’s anecdote is to be believed, there are indeed American couples who see these women as “breeders.”

But still, for many poor women in Mexico, the risk is worth it for the money they receive. “I’m doing this for my children,” said a surrogate mother by the name of Nancy to The Guardian. Before being a surrogate, Nancy struggled to get by with her maid’s salary. Being a surrogate tripled her income. “It’s a hard job, but it’s better than prostitution, which is the only other thing round here that can earn you a bit more,” she said.

In 2016, the Mexican government put an end to surrogacy for foreign couples, citing concerns of exploitation. But in June of this year, Mexico’s Supreme Court once again endorsed commercial surrogacy, even for foreigners.

A faction of Mexican feminists were incensed at this decision, arguing that commercial surrogacy is exploitative to poor Mexican women.

“By endorsing that women and babies are considered commodities that can be rented or bought, they are turning their backs on us,” wrote feminist activist Laura Lecuona in a letter to Mexico’s Supreme Court. “They are not with our human rights, they are with those who want to commodify our bodies.”

And indeed, horror stories abound of surrogate agencies taking advantage of Mexican surrogates.

With its abundance of poor women, Mexico used to be one of the surrogate capitals of the world — specifically Tabasco, Mexico. As the Guardian puts it, Mexican surrogacy agencies “offered networks of donors, clinics and women willing to rent their wombs, all for less than half the usual U.S. prices.”

Per The Guardian, one surrogate mother by the name of Claudia reported that she had to directly ask the baby’s parents for help after the surrogacy agency moved her and other women into a building with no electricity or running water and very little food. While, in the end, the baby was born healthy and now lives in the U.S., Claudia said the entire experience was challenging. “In the end, it was lovely to see the family happy and everything OK,” Claudia said. “But the whole thing was pretty hard for me.”