A Metro Atlanta man’s effort to pay a California surrogate to give birth to his children is drawing national attention after the 47-year-old woman claimed he demanded she abort one of the triplets she is carrying.
The case, published Wednesday by the New York Post, raises questions about the growing commercial surrogate business, where aspiring parents can hire a woman to give birth through a fertilized implant. Total costs for surrogate service can range from $70,000 to $100,000, including legal, medical and surrogate agency expenses.
In the case of the Georgia man — whose identity has not been released — he reportedly agreed to pay Melissa Cook of Woodland Hills, Calif., $33,000 for one child, plus $6,000 for each additional child, according to the Post. Cook had three healthy embryos implanted. Two months into the pregnancy, Cook learned she was carrying triplets and the man panicked, the Post reported.
Cook told the Post he demanded she abort one, citing provisions in the surrogate contract that gave him the right to withhold payment if she didn’t comply.
She also reported receiving two threatening letters from the man’s attorney in the past week urging her to go through with an abortion or face the consequences. Cook is approximately 17 weeks pregnant and said she doesn’t want to abort.
“They are human beings,” she told The Post. “I bonded with these kids. This is just not right.”
As the man’s demands intensified, Cook turned to a non-profit group in California that is critical of surrogate births. It helped get her story out and set up a web page this week to collect donations on behalf of her and other surrogates.
“She was impregnated with three embryos,” said Jennifer Lahl, president of the Center for Bioethics and Culture. “Lo and behold all three embryos are now viable and growing. Everything is healthy and thriving. She doesn’t see the need to terminate a healthy baby. She doesn’t want to abide by the contract. She’s changed her mind.”
Lahl’s group sees surrogacy as the buying and selling of babies and says it exploits women.
Cook reportedly was impregnated with embryos from a 20-year-old’s eggs and the Georgia man’s sperm. Cook did not respond to a request for an interview made through Lahl’s group.
“She’s worried,” Lahl said. “She’s concerned. All the emotions that people would be having when you’re being faced with this dilemma….I think she needs to have the full protection of the law to allow her to carry these babies to term.”
The Georgia man’s attorney, identified as Robert Warmsley, could not be reached for comment.
Several surrogate pregnancy experts in Georgia were concerned about the broad outlines of the Cook case as it’s been presented in news reports. Unlike California, Georgia does not have laws that specifically address surrogate pregnancy, but they say they can’t see a case like Cook’s happening here.
Ruth Claiborne, whose law firm Claiborne Fox Bradley specializes in adoptions and surrogate pregnancies, said she works to identify and avoid potential pitfalls. The firm requires extensive screening of all parties, psychological evaluations and detailed discussions ahead of time to avoid possible conflicts.
No contract should be written that tries to force a woman who is a surrogate to get an abortion or do something with her body against her will, Claiborne said. She said Cook’s case seems to be one fraught with breakdowns in the process.
“I would not write a contract that way,” she said. “I don’t think you can require somebody to contract away a constitutional right.”
Dr. Andrew Toledo, CEO of Reproductive Biology Associates of Atlanta, which specializes in surrogate pregnancies and in vitro fertilization, said implanting someone Cook’s age with three fertilized embryos is a questionable medical call. He said a woman in her late 40s with a single baby pregnancy is high risk, let alone multiple babies.
“That’s nuts,” he said. “That’s not good normal practice of medicine….In Georgia and Atlanta that’s not the way medicine is practiced. These things would not have happened.”
Toledo said an abortion at this stage in her pregnancy has health risks that make it unlikely.
“Not going to happen,” Toledo said. “This Atlanta guy is going to have to face the music and realize that what will happen now will be (decided) after the babies are born and left to the courts.”
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