Call for legislation to treat surrogate mothers equally

A Galway City councillor has called on the Health Minister to consider introducing legislation giving surrogate mothers maternity leave so they are not treated any differently from natural or adoptive parents.

Fine Gael Cllr Padraig Conneely said he is aware of several couples in Galway who have become parents through a surrogacy arrangement abroad.

Surrogacy is a way for a childless couple or individual to have a child, with a surrogate mother carrying the child. The surrogate mother agrees to be artificially inseminated or to have an embryo transferred to her womb in order to become pregnant. She then carries the child to term with the intention of giving custody of the child to the “commissioning” person or couple.

The law currently only gives maternity leave and pay to the surrogate mother who will be giving birth to the baby or to a mother who has adopted a child.

“I think it’s terribly wrong if a [surrogate] mother can’t get maternity leave, yet they can get it if they have adopted. These parents are the registered parents of the baby. It’s very unfair,” said Cllr Conneely.

“I wrote to Health Minister Simon Harris urging him to change the legislation. I have spoken to the HSE and to the City Council and they have confirmed there are more and more surrogate parents trying to get maternity benefits.

“I think times have moved on, surrogacy is an increasing option for parents who otherwise cannot have children. I understand it’s complicated but it is something that needs to be examined in the current environment.”

There is no Irish legislation to cover the legal issues arising from surrogacy.

In 2014 the European Court of Justice ruled that women who use surrogate mothers did not have a legal right to maternity leave when the baby is born.

The following year a woman lost her High Court case alleging the State’s refusal to pay her maternity benefit amounted to unlawful discrimination and breached the Equal Status Act.

More Irish couples are turning to surrogacy in Ireland due to medical reasons, often following multiple miscarriages or after the woman has had a hysterectomy.

Surrogacy is being seen as a more pragmatic solution rather than adoption as international adoption is almost at a standstill and Irish adoption is exceedingly rare.

When health minister, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar promised that provision for altruistic, but not commercial, surrogacy would be made in legislation on assisted human reproduction, which has still not come into force.