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What you need to know about the NY debate over paid surrogacy

The surrogacy bill faces opposition in the Assembly.

The surrogacy bill faces opposition in the Assembly. Credit: AP/Hans Pennink

ALBANY — New York is one of three states that prohibit a woman being paid to carry someone else’s baby to term.

That status hangs in the balance, though, as Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and lawmakers move to the final days of the 2019 session of the State Legislature. A proposal to overturn the ban has sparked a pitched battle in the halls of the State Capitol ahead of the scheduled June 19 adjournment.

The Senate approved the bill Tuesday, but it faces opposition in the Assembly.

Here are some things to know about the legislation:

The bill at hand would legalize “compensated gestational surrogacy,” as supporters call it, and “commercial surrogacy” as opponents tag it.

In short, it would lift the ban on a woman being paid to carry someone else’s baby.

New York’s surrogacy ban stems from an infamous case and action by then-Gov. Mario Cuomo, the current governor’s father.

In 1985, a New Jersey couple paid a woman $10,000 to be inseminated with the husband’s sperm and carry their child to term. But when the baby, a girl, was born, the woman had a change of heart and said she wanted to keep the child and forgo the money. A lengthy court battle ensued – it became known as the “Baby M” case.

Eventually New Jersey’s top court ruled the surrogacy contract illegal, though the father ultimately won custody of “Baby M.”

Fast forward to 1992: then-Gov. Mario Cuomo signed a law banning surrogacy contracts.

Since Baby M, most states have made paid surrogacy legal.

The federal government hasn’t really touched the issue, leaving it up to the states. In that vacuum, 47 other states have enacted laws establishing surrogacy rights and rules.

Meanwhile, infertile or gay couples in New York say they’ve had to travel out of state to go through surrogacy.

“I’m the proud parent of two daughters born through gestational surrogacy. Unfortunately, under the current law, my husband and I had to travel 3,000 miles to California to build our family because New York makes surrogate agreements illegal,” said Sen. Brad Hoylman (D-Manhattan), one of the lead sponsors of the repeal legislation and the only openly gay state senator.

It’s not completely a Republican-Democrat divide and each side features some heavy hitters.

Cuomo, a Democrat, the Senate and some celebrity activists are pushing legislators to OK a bill that would legalize the practice. They say it is a pathway to parenthood for infertile or gay couples.

They say the New York prohibition, signed in 1992, is outdated and hasn’t kept pace with medical and legal advances surrounding the surrogacy issues.

Andy Cohen, a radio and TV talk show host and producer, has appeared with Cuomo and other supporters at news conferences to tout the measure. Like Hoylman, he and his husband journeyed to California to contract with a surrogate.

“It’s about freedom to form a family,” Cohen said at a news conference with Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins (D-Yonkers).

Rallying on the other side are the Catholic Church, some anti-human trafficking groups and some feminist leaders, such as Gloria Steinem, who said the proposal “undermines women’s control over their bodies, jeopardizes women’s reproductive rights, renders women vulnerable to reproductive trafficking and exploitation, and further subordinates women as second-class citizens, all with a third-party profit motive that is unregulated.”

The Catholic Church has said the practice “treats children like commodities, to be manufactured, bought and sold.” They say it will exploit vulnerable women who need the money and primarily benefit a relatively small group of couples wealthy enough to pay for surrogate services.

Notably, one of the most liberal lawmakers, Sen. Liz Krueger (D-Manhattan), said the proposal needs more work because “in the end, you’re buying and selling eggs and renting wombs for commercial purposes.”

Hoylman said the bill has been amended to safeguard against exploitation. Here is the latest version.

The argument has turned personal.

On Tuesday, Cuomo singled out three female Assembly Democrats for holding up the legislation: Didi Barrett (D-Poughkeepsie), Deborah Glick (D-Manhattan) and Helene Weinstein (D-Brooklyn). He said he didn’t understand their “rationale” in opposing the bill.

That brought a sharp response from Glick, who called it an “unfortunate lack of respect.”

“It seems to me that attacking women is not necessarily the way to get the bill passed,”  she said.

The Senate acted. The Assembly?

On Tuesday, the Senate voted, 40-21, to approve the bill. It’s unclear if the Democratic-dominated Assembly will act.

Said Assemb. Amy Paulin (D-Scarsdale), the chief Assembly sponsor: “We’re still counting votes.”

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