New York State modernises its surrogacy laws

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Sital Kalantry

Cornell Law School, Ithaca, NY


Darrell White

Cornell Law School, Ithaca, NY


New York State’s anti-surrogacy statute passed in 1992 was, until recently, one of the most restrictive surrogacy laws in the United States.[1] Over the last two decades, states have moved to modernise their surrogacy laws, but New York continued to hold out.[2] Radical feminists and religious groups came together to resist efforts by LGBTQI+ and fertility organisations to legalise surrogacy. After the bill to legalise surrogacy, known as the Child-Parent Security Act (CPSA), failed in the state legislature last year, Governor Cuomo used his executive power to include the CPSA in the state budget. The budget was passed in April 2020.[3]

New York initially prohibited compensated surrogacy after the nationally televised Baby M case from its neighbouring state, New Jersey.[4] A traditional surrogate sued the intended father to nullify the surrogacy contract and the New Jersey Supreme Court ruled that surrogacy contracts were against public policy.[5] In 1988, the New York Task Force on Life and the Law, argued that New York should ban surrogacy, because it could disrupt traditional relationships and because the long-term effects of the fertility technology was unknown.[6]Thereafter, the New York State legislature passed a statute which imposed fines and criminal sanctions on those who facilitated any type of compensated surrogacy arrangement.[7]

The battle to legalise surrogacy in New York started almost a decade ago. The CPSA was first introduced in the New York State Assembly in 2012 and in the New York State Senate in 2017. While the CPSA was being considered in 2017, the Cornell International Human Rights Clinic published a report pointing out that the stringent anti-surrogacy law in New York had become an outlier in the US and that many of the societal and technological concerns that prompted the law were no longer valid.[8]

The CPSA remained stalled in the judiciary committee of the legislature for many years. During the 2019 session of the state legislature, the CPSA made it farther than ever before; it passed the New York State Senate. However, it was not introduced in the Assembly for vote in large part because radical feminists and Catholic groups objected.[9] They argued that if New York were to legalise surrogacy, poor and immigrant women would be trafficked to and exploited in New York.[10] Other concerns raised related to the safety of in-vitro fertilisation and health of surrogates during pregnancy and birth.[11]

In a literature review published in March 2020 by researchers at Cornell Law School and Weill Cornell Medical School, the authors concluded that in the US, surrogacy ‘is a safe process with improving outcomes’ because (among other things) of medical norms that already include ‘meticulous psychosocial and medical screening…’[12] In regard to the psychological health of surrogates, the report concluded that the published studies in ‘Western medical systems overwhelmingly show that surrogate[s]… and their families have good psychological outcomes... and feel positively about the experience.’[13]

Eager to ensure passage of the CPSA, Governor Cuomo included the law in the state budget for the fiscal year 2021.Although it may seem that the inclusion of a surrogacy bill in a budget would be beyond the outer limits of executive power, this is not the case in New York. Its Constitution and case law permit the governor to include substantive non-fiscal items in the budget.[14]During this legislative session, there was little resistance to the budget and CPSA as the Covid-19 crisis loomed over the country.

Twenty-two states in the United States currently have no statute that addresses surrogacy.[15] The trend among the US states that have adopted surrogacy laws is to legalise surrogacy, not prohibit it.[16] Since 2000, 16 states (including New York) and the District of Columbia have enacted statutes that explicitly permit compensated gestational surrogacy.[17] Only four states have taken a prohibitive approach since 2000 and two of those states permit uncompensated gestational surrogacy.[18] New York’s change leaves Michigan as the only US state that criminalises compensated gestational surrogacy.

New York’s new pro-surrogacy law is one of the most protective in the United States in terms of the rights it gives to surrogate. A section of the law, known as the ‘surrogate’s bill of rights’ specifically enumerates the rights of surrogates in regards to: health and welfare decisions, legal counsel, health insurance and medical costs, counselling, life insurance, and termination of the surrogacy contract.[19] The new law also resolves how courts should handle a judgment of parentage and adoption, the status of a child of assisted reproduction, the necessary features of a surrogacy agreement, and how the state plans to regulate surrogacy programmes.[20] This change in New York law, which will become effective in February 2021,[21] is in line with the growing trend towards recognising surrogacy in the United States.



[1] Steven Spandorfer andAllison Petrini, Weil Cornell Med Sch, & Sital Kalantry, Cornell Univ Law Sch, ‘Medical and Mental Health Implications of Gestational Surrogacy and Trends in State Regulations on Compensated Gestational Surrogacy’,18 (2020),available at: https://cpb-us-e1.wpmucdn.com/blogs.cornell.edu/dist/2/7529/files/2020/03/Medical-and-Mental-Health-Implications-of-Gestational-Surrogacy.pdf, last accessed 11 June 2020. [hereinafter Spandorfer and Kalantry]. Note how NY was one of only two states that imposed criminal sanctions on gestational surrogacy.

[2] Ibid, p 19.

[3] The official website of New York State, ‘Governor Cuomo Signs FY 2021 Budget’, 3 April 2020, available at: https://www.governor.ny.gov/news/governor-cuomo-signs-fy-2021-budget, last accessed 11 June 2020.

[4] Christina Caron,‘Surrogacy is Complicated.Just askNew York’, NewYorkTimes, 18 April2020, available at: https://www.nytimes.com/2020/04/18/parenting/pregnancy/surrogacy-laws-new-york.html, last accessed 11 June 2020.

[5]In re Baby M, 109 N J 396, 419-21 (N J 1988).

[6]NYState Task Force on Life and the Law, Surrogate Parenting: Analysis and Recommendations for Public Policy iv, 1988, available at: https://www.health.ny.gov/regulations/task_force/reports_publications/docs/surrogate_parenting.pdf, last accessed 11 June 2020.

[7]NY DomRelLaw, s123(2)(b)(McKinney 2019) (s 122 makes surrogacy contracts unenforceable on public policy grounds).

[8]CornellInt’l Human Rights: Policy Advocacy Clinic &, Nat’l Law Univ­ – Delhi, Should Compensated Surrogacy Be Permitted or Prohibited? September2017,available at: https://cpb-us-e1.wpmucdn.com/blogs.cornell.edu/dist/2/7529/files/2017/05/Cornell-Report-273uhyk.pdf, last accessed 11 June 2020.

[9]See Letter from Liz J Abzug et al, Exec Dir, Bella Abzug Leadership Inst, to Andrew Cuomo, Governor, NY, 1 June 2019, http://catwinternational.org/Content/Images/Article/758/attachment.pdf; NY State Catholic Conference, ‘Gestational Surrogacy: Memorandum of Opposition’, NY State Catholic Conference, 10 June 2019, https://www.nyscatholic.org/gestational-surrogacy/.

[10]See Letter from Liz J Abzug et al, Exec Dir, Bella Abzug Leadership Inst, to Andrew Cuomo, Governor, NY, 1 June 2019, http://catwinternational.org/Content/Images/Article/758/attachment.pdf.

[11] Ibid.

[12]Spandorfer and Kalantry, supra note 1, at 11.

[13]Spandorfer and Kalantry, supra note 1, at 16.

[14]See,for eg,Silver v Pataki,96 N Y 2d 532 (N Y 2001); Pataki v NY State Assembly,4 N Y 2d 75, 85(N Y 2004) (‘[L]eav[ing] all of the Legislature’s constitutional prerogatives intact, but preserv[ing] the role of the Governor as the “constructor” of the. . . budget.’. See also E J McMahon, Unbalanced by Design: New York State’s Strong Executive Budget System, Empire Center,21 January 2020, https://www.empirecenter.org/publications/unbalanced-by-design-new-york-states-strong-executive-budget-system/.

[15] Spandorfer and Kalantry, supra note 1.

[16] Spandorfer and Kalantry, supra note 1, at 19.

[17] Spandorfer and Kalantry, supra note 1, at 19.

[18] Spandorfer and Kalantry, supra note 1, at 19.

[19]Spandorfer and Kalantry, supra note 1, at 19.

[20] See Deniese E Seidelman & Alexis L Cirel, ‘The Child-Parent Security Act is a Game Changer’, Law.com,27 April 2020, https://www.law.com/newyorklawjournal/2020/04/27/the-child-parent-security-act-is-a-game-changer-heres-what-you-need-to-know/.

[21] Ibid.

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