There’s been conversation here from time to time about what it means to be a “biological parent.” I think that the term is at best murky, because I think a woman who gives birth to a child–whether genetically related to the child or not–might be a biological parent. Others disagree and, I think it is fair to say, view “biological parent” as essentially the same as “genetic parent.”
We’ve also disagreed (very recently) about whether the woman who gives birth has a biological relationship with the child. I think the division here is pretty much the same split about whether “biology” includes more than “genetics” in this context.
On one level this is just a debate about language and one might say that everyone is free to use the language they prefer, so long as they make its meaning clear. (I insist on the latter because without that, communication becomes ensnarled in misunderstanding.) Thus, as long as you all know what I mean by “biological parent”–and in particular that I do not mean it to be the equivalent of “genetic parent” I think it’s fine to use it.
But as we all know, there are moments when the meaning of terms isn’t just up to the speaker. And here’s one of them.
If a child is born abroad–by which I mean outside of the US–under what circumstances is it a US citizen? US law, formed partly from statutes and partly from the US State Department’s interpretation of law, provides that a child is a US citizen if the child has a “biological connection” to a US citizen parent.
Well now, as you can see, we need to know what it means to have “a biological connection” to a parent. And it cannot be just whatever the speaker wants–there needs to be a fixed and agreed upon meaning. (Without that, you don’t have any uniform law.)
In that context, here’s what the state department has to say. After noting the requirement of biological connection, it says :
In other words, in order to transmit U.S. citizenship to a child conceived through Assisted Reproductive Technology (ART), a U.S. citizen father must be the genetic parent and a U.S. citizen mother must be either the genetic or the gestational and legal mother of the child at the time and place of the child’s birth. (A gestational mother is the woman who carries and gives birth to the child.)
(Emphasis added. You can find the full text here.)
Now honestly, I’m not completely happy about the language here. There are some “ands” that puzzle me. (A child does not need both a US citizen father and a US citizen mother, so what is that “and” doing in there? I’m also unclear about what the “and” after gestational mother is doing there.)
But putting those issues to one side, it seems pretty clear to me that in the State Department’s view, a woman who gives birth to a child has a biological relationship to the child. I’m not suggesting that this means we cannot have the conversation about what the terms “biological parent” and “biological relationship” mean. I just think this should be part of it.