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Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Christie Vetoes Surrogacy Contract Bill

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie on June 29 vetoed, for the second time, a bill that would have permitted legally binding gestational carrier agreements.

In such a contract, a woman agrees to carry the fertilized egg of another woman through pregnancy. According to the bill, S866, the surrogate mother would have been required to immediately forfeit all maternity rights.

Christie vetoed an identical version of the bill in 2012, saying not enough research had been done to study the possible ramifications.

"Permitting adults to contract with others regarding a child in such a manner unquestionably raises serious and significant issues," Christie said in his 2012 veto statement. "While some will applaud the freedom to explore these new, and sometimes necessary, arranged births, others will note the profound change in the traditional beginnings of a family that this bill would enact. I am not satisfied that these questions have been sufficiently studied by the Legislature at this time.

"Validating contracts for the birth of children is a step that cannot be taken without the most serious inquiry, reflection and consensus," Christie said.

Christie, in his latest veto message, said the sponsors had done nothing to allay his concerns since 2012.

"It should therefore come as no surprise that I remain unconvinced that the Legislature has addressed the myriad social, moral and ethical questions presented by this bill," he said.

Neither the chief sponsor, Sen. Joseph Vitale, D-Middlesex, nor his media representatives immediately responded to requests for comment.

The bill would have required that the contract clearly state that the gestational carrier would agree to undergo pre-embryo transfer, attempt to carry and give birth to the child and surrender custody of the child to the intended parent immediately upon the birth of the child.

Under the contract, the intended parent would have had to agree to become the legal parent of the child immediately after the birth. The contract also would have mandated that the child's birth certificate name the intended parent as the sole legal parent of the child.

During committee hearings held earlier this year, Vitale said the bill, called the New Jersey Gestational Carrier Act, would become a model for the nation.

"For men and women that struggle to get pregnant, gestational carriers can be a path to the family and children they have always dreamed of," Vitale said in a statement after one committee hearing.

"By providing a framework for gestational carrier agreements to be written, we can protect all parties involved in these contracts—from the intended parents, to the women carrying the baby to, most importantly, the children born from these agreements," he said.

Earlier this year, Vitale said he was bringing the bill back again because he and co-sponsor Sen. Loretta Weinberg, D-Bergen, considered it to be one addressing an issue of public importance.

Under the bill, any agreement would have allowed for the gestational carrier to choose her own medical care for the pregnancy, labor, delivery and postpartum care. Because the agreement would not be considered an adoption, a surrender of custody or a termination of parental rights, it would not be in conflict with New Jersey's adoption laws.

Also, the bill would have allowed for the intended parent to reimburse the gestational carrier's reasonable expenses in connection with carrying the child. This would include reimbursement for medical, hospital, counseling and living expenses during the pregnancy and postpartum recovery.

The intended parents would have been responsible for paying the gestational carrier's counsel fees, but the gestational carrier would have been able to choose her own attorney.

A gestational carrier would have to have been at least 21 years old and already have had a child or children of her own.

New Jersey has a checkered history regarding the use of gestational carriers.

Surrogate pregnancy contracts made national headlines in 1988 when the state Supreme Court issued its ruling in In re Baby M, which voided surrogacy-for-hire contracts.

In 2012, the court, in a 3-3 split in In the Matter of the Parentage of a Child by T.J.S. and A.L.S., let stand a lower court ruling that parental rights do not vest in the wife of a man who fathered a child through an anonymous egg donor, which was carried by an unrelated surrogate.

Vitale said 12 states—Arkansas, Delaware, Florida, Illinois, New Hampshire, Nevada, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Virginia, Washington and Wisconsin—have enacted measures legalizing gestational carrier contracts in some form.

The bill passed the Senate in a 21-13 vote in February and the Assembly in a 43-25 vote in May. The votes were split largely along party lines.


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