Things just took a bizarre turn in the New York legislature when it comes to surrogacy. Last week, New York State Senator Liz Kruger (SD-28) introduced S7717. That’s a new bill to legalize compensated surrogacy in New York. Great, right? Well, there’s already a different bill that’s both much further along and also, like, way better than S7717. So what gives?
As astute readers know, New York is lagging behind the rest of the country as one of the few remaining jurisdictions in the United States that does not permit compensated surrogacy. And while a handful of jurisdictions once also had this legal prohibition, most have reversed course. Fortunately, New York has been looking poised to do the same with the smart, well-drafted Child-Parent Security Act. However, that’s a separate bill — and quite different from S7717.
What’s going on?
Last year, the Child Parent Security Act (CPSA) came very close to passing. But then it didn’t. Instead, it fell victim to the legislative sausage-making process.
After passing the Senate, and having the full and vocal support of Gov. Andrew Cuomo, it was never brought up for a vote on the Assembly floor. So eventually, it died at the end of the 2019 legislative session. It didn’t help that at the last minute, noted feminist icon Gloria Steinem, published an incendiary op-ed against surrogacy.
So incendiary that some people had to do some real soul searching as to whether we were still, in fact, feminists, while Steinem argued that permitting compensated surrogacy was exploitative of women. It was sort of surreal to hear Steinem on the side of having the government tell women what they can and can’t do with their bodies.
However, after all that, this should be the CPSA’s year. Except now comes along S7717, which looks like an attempt to muddy the waters.
The CPSA takes the approach of following the generally accepted standards and best practices concerning surrogacy arrangements, including those recommended by the American Society for Reproductive Medicine (ASRM); S7717, in contrast, takes a very different approach.
To give it some credit, it does seem to provide a clearer path for compensation for “genetic surrogacy” –- where the surrogate is genetically related to the child. However, most surrogacy in the United States is “gestational surrogacy” –- where the surrogate is not genetically related to the child. She is, instead, providing a way to help intended parents, who could not have a genetic child otherwise, bring their child to birth. Here especially, S7717 takes a new and strange direction.
- Everyone Must Live In New York. S7717 requires all parties to be either a United States citizen or a legal permanent resident and to be residents of New York for the past 12 months. There is an exception if the parties are “immediate” family and there is no compensation. But that’s a very narrow band. Penalizing and disqualifying someone for living across state lines or being a second cousin versus an “immediate” family member is a harsh line to draw.
- Random Restrictive Medical Requirements. If that weren’t enough, S7717 requires that a woman wishing to be a surrogate under the proposed law *must* be under 35 years old, and cannot have more than three births. It’s not exactly clear where these numbers came from though, since the ASRM guidelines provide that a woman can be a surrogate up to the age of 45 (ten more years!) and can have five prior births.
- Impossible(?) Financial Requirements. The bill also requires what would often be impossible requirements. The intended parents would be required to have a life insurance policy in place for the surrogate for a minimum of $750,000, as well as a short-term and long-term disability policy. While maybe obtainable in some cases, and definitely good things to have in place in a perfect world, sometimes it can be very difficult to find such policies. For instance, some disability policies are not readily available to anyone if not provided by an employer, or require at least a year of being in place prior to eligibility for the benefits. So if no policy is available, it’s another no go.
- Surrogate Can Keep The Child?! OK, the restrictions described above aren’t great. But probably way worse is the bill language providing that the surrogate is permitted to terminate the agreement at *any* time. And that specifically includes any time during the pregnancy. Even though the intended parents would be required to be financially responsible for the child at all times, a surrogate could decide to be a parent to the child.
Consistent with that madness, S7717 provides that hopeful intended parents can only be judicially recognized as the sole legal parents of the child after the surrogate submits a written declaration — no sooner than eight days following the birth of the child — stating that she is voluntarily consenting to disclaim and renounce her parental rights. But until such a waiver is submitted, the surrogate retains decision-making responsibility for the child (but still not financial responsibility). Whoa. That does not sound right.
Denise Sidelman, a New York attorney and member of the Academy of Adoption & Assisted Reproduction Attorneys (AAAA), described how S7717’s approach to parental rights would undermine the foundational principles of ethical surrogacy, jeopardizing the legal relationship between intended parents and their children.
S7717 is like being offered a bouquet of sad, wilted flowers right before the beautiful long-stem roses are about to arrive. They’re both, technically, plants. But one is so unappealing that you suspect something is amiss. Too bad that S7717 is so narrow and restrictive, along with being well out of line with medical and professional standards. Good thing those roses are still on the way. The CSPA. No reason to settle for less than good public policy.
Ellen Trachman is the Managing Attorney of Trachman Law Center, LLC, a Denver-based law firm specializing in assisted reproductive technology law, and co-host of the podcast I Want To Put A Baby In You. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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