Proposed Law Would Make NJ Women "Baby Factories": Critics
Opponents of a proposed law in New Jersey fear it would turn some women into baby factories. That's what leaders of a variety of Garden State organizations from across the political spectrum are saying now that a state senate bill that changes New Jersey's surrogate motherhood laws has passed in the upper house of the legislature, and the lower house awaits its turn to decide its fate.

"This bill, if it's passed in its current form, will radically alter human civilization as we know it. No less than that," said Harold Cassidy in a one-on-one interview with PIX11 News. His passionate opinion is well informed by experience. Cassidy was the surrogate mother's attorney in the Baby M case, which set the precedent for surrogate motherhood in New Jersey and nationwide.

In that case, legally titled "In re Baby M," Cassidy's client, Mary Beth Whitehead, was paid by a New Jersey couple in 1986 to carry and give birth to a baby girl for them. Whitehead was impregnated with the sperm of the husband of the couple, William Stern, but the egg that made the embryo that went on to become Baby M was Whitehead's own. After giving birth, Whitehead ended up wanting to keep the baby, and endured nearly two years of legal wrangling before being forced to give the girl up to her intended parents. Whitehead was granted visitation rights by a judge.

Her attorney told PIX11 news that the lessons learned from that case, which have informed virtually all surrogate parenting situations in the 26 years since, could be rendered null and void by Bill S1599, the measure that passed the state senate in Trenton Thursday evening.

"It changes criminal law, it changes civil law," Cassidy said. "It violates every policy we've ever had to preserve the rights of mothers and their children."

He is concerned about a bill that mainly causes two changes to more than two decades of state practices regarding women bearing children for others. First, it would bring to an end New Jersey's three-day waiting period for intended parents to have both of their names placed on a birth certificate. Second, it would allow for formal contracts to be drafted between intended families and women who bear children for them.

Those women are legally known as gestational carriers. They carry to term a fetus formed from the sperm and egg of donors who are not genetically related to them.

If the bill were to become law, Cassidy believes that a class of financially needy women would suffer undue physical and psychological damage for the sake of carrying out the desires of parents who can afford, by necessity or by choice, to not go through pregnancy and childbirth.

Still, the measure passed by a comfortable margin in the state senate, 21 -11. Its sponsors, Senators Joseph Vitale (D-Middlesex), Barbara Buono (D-Middlesex), Brian Stack (D-Hudson) and Loretta Weinberg (D-Bergen), who is also the majority leader, point out that surrogate motherhood is not rare, and to avoid court disputes over surrogacy like the Baby M case and many cases since, it's important to regulate contracts for surrogate birth situations. The one Republican co-sponsor of the bill, Sen. Diane Allen (R-Burlington), was a no-show in the chamber on Thursday, according to her office.

Meanwhile, Cassidy says that advocates of the gestational carrier bill have tried to keep the issue under the radar as it goes through the legislative process, and vows to keep the legislative measures in a bright spotlight.

"You can call it whatever you want," Cassidy said, "But it's a sale, and the sale of a child to someone who wants it, is devastating to the surrogate's other children."

Late Thursday, Laurie McCabe, the legislative director of bill sponsor Joseph Vitale, sent an email to PIX11 News, disputing Cassidy's claim. "The bill does not allow children to be sold," McCabe wrote. "It is based on adoption law, which allows for the reasonable expenses of a birth mother to be reimbursed or paid for by the adoptive parents. It does not allow for compensation to the birth mother/gestational carrier."

Governor Chris Christie has not said whether or not he would veto a surrogate mother regulation bill if it came across his desk. Now that it's passed the state senate, it faces a full vote in the state assembly, the lower house, where it was approved by a 5 - 1 vote in committee.

Christie, when asked about the situation at a news conference on Wednesday, said, "This is a particularly difficult emotional issue for people. I'll wait to see what the legislature does."