Surrogacy is controversial around the world, raising difficult moral, social and legal issues. As a result, the legal situation varies considerably. Many countries do not have laws which specifically deal with surrogacy. Some countries ban surrogacy outright, while others ban commercial surrogacy but allow altruistic surrogacy (in which the surrogate is not financially compensated). Some countries allow commercial surrogacy, with few restrictions. Some jurisdictions extend a ban on surrogacy to international surrogacy. In some jurisdictions rules applicable to adoptions apply and in others the practice is unregulated.
As of 2013, places where a woman could legally be paid to carry another’s child through IVF and embryo transfer included India, Georgia, Russia, Thailand, Ukraine and a few U.S. states.
Laws dealing with surrogacy must deal with:
- enforceability of surrogacy agreements. In some jurisdictions, they are void or prohibited, and some jurisdictions distinguish between commercial and altruistic surrogacy.
- the different issues raised by traditional and gestational surrogacy
- mechanisms for the legal recognition of the intended parents as the legal parents, either by pre-birth orders or by post-birth adoption
Although laws differ widely from one jurisdiction to another, some generalizations are possible:
The historical legal assumption has been that the woman giving birth to a child is that child’s legal mother, and the only way for another woman to be recognized as the mother is through adoption (usually requiring the birth mother’s formal abandonment of parental rights).
Even in jurisdictions that do not recognize surrogacy arrangements, if the genetic parents and the birth mother proceed without any intervention from the government and have no changes of heart along the way, they will likely be able to achieve the effects of surrogacy by having the surrogate mother give birth and then give the child up for private adoption to the intended parents.
If the jurisdiction specifically prohibits surrogacy, however, and authorities find out about the arrangement, there may be financial and legal consequences for the parties involved. One jurisdiction (Quebec) prevented the genetic mother’s adoption of the child even though that left the child with no legal mother.
Some jurisdictions specifically prohibit only commercial and not altruistic surrogacy. Even jurisdictions that do not prohibit surrogacy may rule that surrogacy contracts (commercial, altruistic, or both) are void. If the contract is either prohibited or void, then there is no recourse if one party to the agreement has a change of heart: if a surrogate changes her mind and decides to keep the child, the intended mother has no claim to the child even if it is her genetic offspring, and the couple cannot get back any money they may have paid or reimbursed to the surrogate; if the intended parents change their mind and do not want the child after all, the surrogate cannot get any reimbursement for expenses, or any promised payment, and she will be left with legal custody of the child.
Jurisdictions that permit surrogacy sometimes offer a way for the intended mother, especially if she is also the genetic mother, to be recognized as the legal mother without going through the process of abandonment and adoption. Often this is via a birth order in which a court rules on the legal parentage of a child. These orders usually require the consent of all parties involved, sometimes including even the husband of a married gestational surrogate. Most jurisdictions provide for only a post-birth order, often out of an unwillingness to force the surrogate mother to give up parental rights if she changes her mind after the birth.
A few jurisdictions do provide for pre-birth orders, generally in only those cases when the surrogate mother is not genetically related to the expected child. Some jurisdictions impose other requirements in order to issue birth orders: for example, that the intended parents be heterosexual and married to one another. Jurisdictions that provide for pre-birth orders are also more likely to provide for some kind of enforcement of surrogacy contracts.