Surrogacy and the risk of forced abortion - Calif. cases bring new scrutiny

Credit: K3S via
Credit: K3S via

.- Surrogate pregnancy is back in the news with two high profile cases where two different surrogate mothers of triplets rejected requests to have abortions. And one organization is responding by saying the practice is so unethical it should be banned.

“The problems with surrogacy aren’t limited just to here in the U.S. – they’re universal,” said Christopher White, director of research and education at the California-based Center for Bioethics and Culture.

White’s organization advocates for a complete ban on surrogacy. He said surrogacy “commodifies human life” and exploits women, especially those from a low socio-economic status.
“It’s indistinguishable from the buying and selling of life,” he told CNA Jan. 8. “Many of the children conceived through surrogacy can’t help but to feel as if they are mere products and that they were brought into existence simply through a commercial exchange and a contract. Surrogacy intentionally severs the maternal bond, which in every other form of pregnancy is encouraged.”

His comments come after two surrogate mothers spoke out against abortion requests from their babies’ biological parents.

California resident Melissa Cook, 47, has filed a lawsuit in a Los Angeles court against her state’s surrogacy law. She charged the law violates her constitutional rights.

She had agreed to be a surrogate for a 50-year-old man in Georgia. She is now 23 weeks pregnant with three boys. According to Cook’s lawsuit, filed Jan. 4, the man asked her to undergo “selective reduction” and abort one of the babies. The lawsuit claims he cited concerns about his finances and the health of the babies.

“I am pro-life and I am not having an abortion,” Cook said, according to legal documents.

“I no longer view surrogacy arrangements in the same favorable light I once did,” she told the Washington Post. “I have a deep empathy for men who want children. However, I now think that the basic concept of surrogacy arrangements must be re-examined, scrutinized and reconsidered.”

California law allows paid surrogacy, compensating a woman in addition to medical costs and other expenses.

Cook’s lawsuit aims to establish her as the legal mother of the triplets. She wants parental rights over the third child and a custody hearing for the two others. She has requested a declaration that she cannot be sued for refusing an abortion.

Judith Daar, chairman of the American Society for Reproductive Medicine’s Ethics Committee, told the Washington Post it would be unlikely that a court would grant Cook parental rights. Daar added that the woman’s request for protection against a lawsuit is a new issue that has not been addressed by the courts.

"I now think that the basic concept of surrogacy arrangements must be re-examined, scrutinized and reconsidered.”

Although most surrogacy agreements contain an “abortion clause” in which a parent can request an abortion, Daar said it is not enforceable.

The man’s lawyer, Robert Walmsley, told the Washington Post that doctors had told the man that there were major risks in multiple births and this motivated his suggestion that Cook undergo a selective abortion, not convenience.

“Believe me, it crushed him to make that call or request,” the attorney said.

Cook challenged this account, saying the man initially told her he could not raise all three children.

Walmsley said the biological father has since accepted Cook’s decision and has said he will raise all three children.

Another California woman, Brittneyrose Torres, is a surrogate about 17 weeks into her pregnancy. She told the New York Post her surrogacy contract paid $25,000 for carrying one child and an extra $5,000 for carrying two or more children. The 26-year-old woman was implanted with a male and a female embryo. The male embryo split into twins.

The biological parents then asked her to abort the unborn girl about 12 weeks into her pregnancy, citing concerns about increased health risks.

“I emailed my doctors. There were no abnormalities,” Torres told the New York Post. She recounted a conversation with the babies’ biological mother.

“I told her I couldn’t abort one of the children,” she said. “I could not emotionally and physically do that at nearly 13 weeks. I believe it will be killing this baby.”

Torres said the couple refused her offer to adopt the girl.

Andrew Vorzimer, an attorney for the babies’ biological parents, told the Washington Post that the situation has been resolved. He said the biological parents had suggested the abortion for the unborn girl because it was medically easier, as the male babies were in the same gestational sac. According to Vorzimer, the mother had initially agreed to an abortion but later refused.

For surrogacy critics like White, there are hopes the latest stories will spark action.

“We’re hoping that legislators and the general public alike will take a serious look at this practice and the harms involved,” he said.

Surrogacy law in the U.S. is “a patchwork of legislation,” White said. “Some states explicitly allow it, others ban it, and in many areas the law is simple grey – which makes the legal protection for surrogate mothers equally ambiguous.”

He added that surrogate-conceived children face significant health risks including low birth weights, general development difficulties, and an increased likelihood of stillbirths.

“Surrogate mothers are enticed with large sums of money that coerce them to act against their best interests,” White charged. “This in itself corrupts the notion of informed consent within the medical profession.”

In developing countries some women are forced into the practice by their husbands to help pay family expenses.

White said that last fall in Idaho, a surrogate mother pregnant with twins died from complications. He accused the media and government authorities of turning a blind eye.

“What will it take for people to start paying attention and for laws to be changed?” he asked.

Photo credit: K3S via

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