Gestational Surrogates Win Custody Rulings in Michigan and New Jersey

There is a significant ruling out of New Jersey on the rights of gestational surrogate who gave birth to twin girls who are not genetically related to her. Angelia G. Robinson, agreed to have the children in 2006 for her brother, Donald Robinson Hollingsworth and his spouse, Sean Hollingsworth. The men arranged for the use of an anonymous donor’s eggs and fertilized with sperm from Sean Hollingsworth. The decision follows a similar win by a gestational surrogate in Michigan.

Donald Robinson Hollingsworth is an accountant in Manhattan and must now share custody the baby. The decision represents a growing split among the states which have both embraced and rejected such claims in different cases.

The decision would wipe away the legal distinction between gestational and conventional surrogacy (where the woman’s actual eggs are used).

Ms. Robinson claims that she was coerced into the arrangement. In the Superior Court decision, Judge Francis B. Schultz relied on the decision of the New Jersey Supreme Court in 1988 in the case of Baby M. However, in that case, the surrogate, Mary Beth Whitehead, carried her own genetic child for another couple after artificial insemination with the man’s sperm. She was recognized as having maternal rights. The Baby M court also held (in a controversial pont) that the “surrogacy contract is based on principles that are directly contrary to the objectives of our laws. It guarantees the separation of a child from its mother; it looks to adoption regardless of suitability; it totally ignores the child; it takes the child from the mother regardless of her wishes and maternal fitness.” The judge has attracted criticism of women’s groups in the past for his rulings on the ability to get restraining orders, here.

The case tracks a similar dispute in Michigan where Grand Rapids couple Amy Kehoe and her husband Scott arranged for the use of a gestational surrogate, Laschell Baker after acquiring an egg from Michigan pre-med student and sperm from a sperm bank. Baker succeeded in gaining custody of the twins. She claimed that she took the action after learning that that Kehoe was being treated for a mental illness.

For the Michigan story, click here.

For the New Jersey story, click here and here.

22 thoughts on “Gestational Surrogates Win Custody Rulings in Michigan and New Jersey

  1. Ok, so you can’t legally be married because you chose another life style. But you can contract for children. Males total sense to me.

    But then again Grand Rapids, MI and being treated for mental illness. The lady would never stand to get custody as the is the seat of the Dutch Reformed and one of the most evangelical communities you could ever imagine. Home of AmWay, Eric Prince, Meijers Grocery Chain (Whom Wal-Mart Super Stores simulated in store design). The fundamentalists out number any other religion combined.

  2. If you wipe out the legal distinction between gestational and conventional surrogacy, then the next step is to declare that women are just incubators.

    Anyone read “The Handmaiden’s Tale” by Margaret Atwood?

    This is a step in that direction.

  3. I believe surrogacy should be illegal. It allows the use of the poor by the rich. To carry a child for nine months is a huge commitment, a risk to health and possibly even one’s life. I’ve often wondered what will happen when a child finds out that they were purchased by someone who had the means to financially make an arrangement that came at another person’s expense.

    I also believe there is a fundamental flaw in the thinking of people who feel they are only able to love a child if the child has some part of their own genetic makeup. I consider this to be an impoverished vision of “love”. It doesn’t make sense to only “love” a child if they have your genes. Children should not be used to “pass on” one’s genetic material. That is using a child for your own benefit instead of actually wanting to love and care for another small human being, whom you hope to help flourish in the world. NOW on PBS did a program on the reality of surrogacy which I think was well worth watching. It’s a ugly business.

  4. The whole surrogacy situation makes me very uncomfortable. The idea that a woman, even for the best of reasons, carries a child for full term only to surrender it to others troubles me. As Buddha mentioned the “Handmaiden’s Tale” to me surrogacy bespeaks a future where the poor and powerless are used for their bodies, whether as surrogates or “farms” for body parts. This is a dark road we’re heading down and I don’t know if we can stop it.

  5. Jill,
    I agree with your comments. The truth is that if you raise a child from infancy, and you’re anywhere near a normal person with feelings, the bond is as strong as towards one with your genes. There are so many children being emotionally stunted in orphanages today that this is where a childless couple should look. Surrogacy is yet another exploitation of the vulnerable.

  6. BIL–

    I read “The Handmaid’s Tale.” Thought it was a great book–although a chilling tale. There’s an award-winning children’s book about a dystopian society written by Lois Lowry called “The Giver.” In the book, certain young women are selected to serve as “birthmothers.” These birthmothers don’t hold a high place in the society. After birthing a certain number of children, they’re sent to work as laborers.

    How about Huxley’s “Brave New World?”

  7. Elaine,

    Huxley’s work is probably still the gold standard of dystopian fiction and quite applicable. I’ve never heard of “The Giver” though. I’ll have to look into that. I love subversive children’s literature but what else would you expect from a Dr. Seuss fan?

  8. Elaine,

    I’d have to say that “Brave New World” isn’t really applicable here. It’s more of a statement about what happens when you apply the mass-production formula to human existence as a whole. You could maybe stretch parts of “Ape and Essence” to fit into this, but the idea of forcing certain women into the role of “breeders” hasn’t been a central theme of any Huxley book I’ve read.

    An interesting comparison to Huxley’s BNW society would be the alien’s in Lem’s “Eden,” which in part developed as a result of the Mass Production\Biological Engineering model gone wrong.

    I feel that Surrogacy is full of ethical pitfalls, but can also be a source of great benefits. This is a case where the law is struggling to catch up with the ethical pitfalls of a new technology.

  9. BIL,

    As much as I love Huxley, nobody does dystopian better than Lem. Check out either “Memoirs found in a Bathtub” or “The Futurological Congress.”

  10. Gyges–

    Maybe not applicable here–but “Brave New World” speaks to the technologizing of the reproductive process. We wouldn’t have surrogate mothers, in vitro fertilization, sperm banks, etc., if it weren’t for science and technology. There were also five different classes of society in BNW–just as there were different levels of society in “The Handmaid’s Tale” and “The Giver.”

  11. BIL–

    You’d probably like “Feed” by M. T. Anderson. It’s a young adult book about a dystopian society that was a 2002 finalist for a National Book Award for Young People’s Literature and the 2003 winner of the Boston Globe-Horn Book Award for Fiction. I thought the book was great!

  12. Elaine,

    Now that you mention it, I can’t think of a dystopia that doesn’t involve heavy stratification of some sort. The obvious ones all do, and it’s at the very least implied in the ones I mentioned earlier. Lem’s “Eden” doesn’t particularly emphasize it, but if you read between the lines of the description of the Alien’s culture it’s there. You could make an argument for that Vonnegut short with the Handicapper General didn’t, but there really isn’t enough information to tell (and presumably those in charge of enforcing the handicaps would have to be left sans-handicap themselves).

  13. I don’t think any of you are getting the real story here. These are all people that want nothing more than to have their own children and are unable to produce their own child. The gestational carriers are not forced into becoming impregnated. They contract themselves to perform this service for the adoptive parents. Most do it for altruistic reasons while others may do it for monetary incentives. In the end, whatever their reasons, it was their choice to carry the fetus for the parents. Should the would be parents be punished because they have the means to procure their dreams of having a child. In the NJ case the only way for the parents to have a child of their own is through surrogacy. Of course their is always adoption but most people who want children and are able to have their own do so. Why should it be any different with a gay couple or a couple where one of the parents is infertile. Granted the Michigan case may have some merit since one of the “would be” parents had mental illness issues but being gay is not an illness or a choice. In my opinion, this judges decision was not a good one. Using the Baby M case as a precedence is not appropiate since the children are genetically related. To cite “surrogacy contract is based on principles that are directly contrary to the objectives of our laws. It guarantees the separation of a child from its mother; it looks to adoption regardless of suitability; it totally ignores the child; it takes the child from the mother regardless of her wishes and maternal fitness.” negates the fact that without the “would be” parents these children would not exist. It does not take into account that these “would be” parents wanted their children so much that they made extraordinary sacrifices to be able to bring them to life. In most cases they have transformed their entire lives to be able to be provide a good home. All they have done is to try to conceive their own children in the only natural way available to them. How could this possibly be wrong.

  14. I have heard a lot about this case and the would be mom had part of parinoid psychosis and heard voices. She didnt tell the surrogate she had this problem mentally. There has to be more to the story that the media is not saying , I wonder if this case will produce a book or movie …that would be nice to find the truth.
    I also found out that the would be parents never even got to bring the babies home from the hospital in the begining , that the surrogate had to. That to me shows some type of irresponsiblity and even neglect!

  15. As a surrogate, I’m disgusted by your lack of open-mindedness. I am an educated professional who happens to find herself lucky to not have infertility issues and has decided to “pay it forward”. I am currently working with a couple that is very much like me but experiencing the heartache of infertility. In my case, the mother has a medical condition that causes her body to reject the fetus tissues immediately. Should these people not ever get to see their own genetic children because of that, when modern medicine surely allows it?

    I, too, have read “the giver” and “brave new world” and this is neither of those situations. Yes, those that can afford the infertility treatments are the ones that will get the surrogates (unless our country changes the health care system drastically). Birth-moms are not looking for a quick buck, they’re not “selling their bodies”, they are simply trying to help out another. Good will toward men and all that jazz. No, this is not something that would work for every situation. Yes, it’s a hard road. But why should we make it illegal for a couple to find a way to achieve their dream of parenthood when the 14 year old down the street just got knocked up and dropped her baby in a trash can.

    Until parenthood requires a license and permit, as established by the government, they shouldn’t get involved in it AT ALL. It’s enforcing rules only on those that have certain traits, infertility.

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