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Debate over gestational surrogacy continues in New York

TAY GLASS, HOST: A New York state bill is gaining momentum. If passed it would protect the rights of parents who have their children with the help of third-party reproduction technology. That includes sperm, egg and embryo donation. But the bill would also legalize paid surrogacy, when a woman is paid to carry a baby for somebody else-- and that’s been controversial. Lauren Peace reports.

LAUREN PEACE, BYLINE: For the last several years, Alexis Cirel has been working as a family and reproductive rights lawyer in New York City. Her practice is personal.

CIREL: My husband and I had years of fertility treatments. It was heartbreaking and grueling, physically.

PEACE: And she says the treatments didn’t work. So her doctor recommended she turn to gestational surrogacy, that’s when an embryo biologically connected to the intended parents, is implanted into the uterus of a woman, who then carries the baby to term.

But when Cirel and her husband began researching their options.

CIREL: We found out that we can’t do it in New York. It’s illegal in New York,

PEACE: New York is one of only two states in the country that bans paid gestational surrogacy. In other states, surrogacy is either loosely regulated, OR there are no laws in place.

That can make things really difficult for families struggling with infertility, AND LGBTQ families who want biological children. Cirel learned from her own experience.

CIREL: And it motivated me to get into this field of law.

PEACE: Now, Cirel is part of a growing coalition working to pass the Child-Parent Security Act, which would overhaul New York’s parentage laws, and could set legal standards across the country.

So far the legislation, which would make paid surrogacy legal, has been popular among key lawmakers. The New York Attorney General announced her support, and Governor Andrew Cuomo has named the bill a priority.

BUT some feminists, including Gloria Steinem, have spoken out against it.

LAHL: My name is Jennifer Lahl, and I’m the President of the Center for Bioethics and Culture, which actually runs the international campaign called stop surrogacy now.

PEACE: Lahl says that surrogates face health risks. Pregnancy can be dangerous, and paying young women to carry a baby could be a slippery slope.

LAHL: Once you commercialize it, that’s when the industry moves in. It really brings in this whole market, commodification and baby buying and baby selling industry.

PEACE: And Lahl says that could lead to exploitation of low-income women. A stance that lawmakers have taken in Europe, where paid surrogacy is mostly illegal.

But it’s a complicated issue. In part, because law governing third-party reproduction in New York was enacted in the early 1970s. That’s before the technology that made surrogacy, embryo and egg donation possible had even been developed. Which creates problems.

For example, there’s nothing in place that terminates the rights of a sperm, egg or embryo donor after the donation is made.

As for paid gestational surrogacy, a state senator has introduced counter legislation, which currently sits in the Senate’s judiciary committee.

The fate of both bills will be determined later this year. Lauren Peace, Columbia Radio News.

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