Three surrogate mothers – Melissa Cook, Gail Robinson and Toni Bare – are in Washington this week to call on the Supreme Court to provide more clarity on the rights of women and children in the controversial industry. The women, who have separately filed lawsuits in different states, say surrogacy contracts are exploitative to the birth mothers, create a class of women as breeders and commodify children.
The women’s attorney, Harold Cassidy, said in an interview that the nature of surrogacy contracts prevents “a child being placed where it’s in the child’s best interest.”
“It is surprising and disturbing,” Cassidy said. He said many lower courts have punted on the complex questions of surrogacy by making the issue simply about enforcing contracts. But when you are dealing with a child’s life, “there are rulings that have to be made.”
Cook has described her journey as a surrogate as a “horror story.”
Through an agency, Cook agreed to carry a child for a single man, known as “C.M.” in court filings, using his sperm and a female donor’s egg.
When she got pregnant with triplets in 2015, C.M. asked her to abort at least one of the children because he couldn’t afford to raise them all, Cook says. Her interactions with him also made her question his ability to care for the children.
Cook refused to have an abortion and has been fighting for custody of the children in court ever since. When the children were born in 2016, they were placed with C.M.
An affidavit provided by C.M.’s sister describes him as “paranoid” and prone to “frequent anger fits.” She accused him of sharing a house with a relative who deals drugs and said he has disappeared from the house and left the children unattended for hours.
In January, she lost an appeal to adopt the three babies when the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit upheld a lower-court ruling that it lacked jurisdiction, denying her the ability to intervene in the triplets’ situation.
Cook has filed a petition with the Supreme Court regarding her case.
“When a mother knows that their child is entering into a situation that is not in their best interests or, as in my case, downright detrimental to them, they have a right to object,” Cook said in a statement provided in advance of a news conference on Wednesday.
An attorney for C.M. said the children “are doing phenomenal and are developing on schedule,” according to People magazine, and said the accusations in Cook’s filings are “a bunch of lies and false claims.”
Bare is a surrogate from Iowa who sought to keep the child she carried. She had entered into a contract with Paul Montover to carry a child created from his sperm and a donor egg, for $13,000. However, she said she became concerned about Montover and his wife during her pregnancy. According to the Des Moines Register, she accused Montover of calling her husband, who is of Hispanic origin, “a dirty Mexican” and Montover’s wife of using the “n-word” to her. Bare is African American.
In February, the Iowa Supreme Court ruled that Montover is the baby’s biological father and will have permanent custody. Cassidy said she would be filing a petition with the Supreme Court this week or next week.
“When I was abused throughout my pregnancy by the ‘intended’ parents, including being subjected to ugly, profanity-laced racial comments, I had a moral obligation to my daughter not to place her in a home that teaches hatred. I could not allow that to happen,” she said in a statement.
Attorneys for the Montovers have argued that Bare voluntarily entered into the contract, which terminated her parental rights.
Gail Robinson said she had been coerced into an agreement to carry twin girls from embryos created from donor eggs and her brother’s husband’s sperm. She sought custody of the children in court.