ALBANY, N.Y. — New York's Legislature could soon repeal one of the nation's last bans on paid surrogacy contracts, in which a woman is compensated for carrying the child of another person or couple.
New York and Michigan are now the only two states that expressly forbid surrogacy contracts, forcing many prospective parents to go to other states to start a family.
A measure pending in the Legislature would permit and regulate such contracts and impose rules intended to protect surrogates, future parents and babies.
Speaking at a Senate hearing on the bill Wednesday in Albany, Dennis Williams told lawmakers about his struggle to find a surrogate outside of New York. In a twist, he ultimately found one in Kansas, Williams' own birth state. He said he left years ago because as a gay black man, he felt more welcome in New York.
"It's more than a little ironic to me that New York has given me some of the best parts of my life and yet could not or would not give me what I wanted most," he said. He and his now five-year-old son live in Brooklyn.
Sen. Brad Hoylman, D-Manhattan, is the sponsor of the bill and the father of two daughters born to a surrogate in California. He said New York's law hasn't kept up with medical advances in gestational surrogacy, in which a woman carries a fetus she is not genetically related to. In many cases, prospective parents may find a surrogate in another state with lax regulations, he said.
"Let's have the best laws in the country, and regulations, that protect all the parties," he said at Wednesday's hearing.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo said the legislation is one of his top priorities for the remainder of the legislative session, which is scheduled to end next month. While no vote is scheduled yet, the bill has strong support in the Democrat-led Senate and Assembly.
Cuomo said the state's ban on surrogacy contracts hits same-sex couples especially hard, which he said is odd given the state's early approval of same-sex marriage.
"And now you're saying, in essence, an infertile couple or a gay couple can't have a child?" he said during a public radio interview Tuesday. "It's absurd to me."
The bill contains several safeguards intended to prevent surrogates from being exploited, and to ensure the legal responsibilities for the child rest with the intended parents. They include requirements that surrogates be 21 or older and have independent legal representation, as well as a process allowing the intended parents to obtain a court judgment naming them the parent of the child before their birth.
Opponents to the bill include the New York State Catholic Conference. In a memo outlining its concerns, the conference wrote that surrogacy contracts have been used to exploit surrogates around the world.
"The international commercial surrogacy trade has been exposed, and several countries such as India, Nepal, Thailand and Cambodia, where brokers found access to impoverished women willing to serve as surrogates, have banned the practice," the conference wrote.