Rich Vaughn, IFLG: Obstacles to Intercountry Adoption Boost Appeal of Assisted Reproductive Technology

Obstacles to Intercountry Adoption Add to Appeal of Assisted Reproduction

Growing obstacles to intercountry adoption have drastically reduced the number of children adopted by U.S. residents from other countries—making assisted reproduction an increasingly appealing alternative for many seeking to fulfill their dreams of parenthood.

The number of children from other countries adopted by U.S. residents plunged to an all-time low in 2018—just 4,059—down 82 percent from its peak in 2004. The decline in intercountry adoptions is not unique to the U.S. but is rather worldwide; however, the United States accounts for some half of all intercountry adoptions, including a high proportion of adoptions of children with special needs.

The causes of this drastic drop differ from country to country, ranging from changes in government policies, to social and political pressure arising from embarrassing headlines, to the growing affluence of emerging economies. The result of this confluence of factors has been to make it more difficult, more time-consuming and more costly for U.S. intended parents to adopt children from other countries—even as tens of thousands of children from all over the world remain in need of good homes.

The same demographic and political factors that are driving the decline in intercountry adoption have had the unintended consequence of increasing the appeal of assisted reproductive technology (ART) by comparison. As prospects for intercountry adoption over the past decade became more uncertain and legally difficult, more costly and, thanks to a few tragic and embarrassing incidents, less socially and politically acceptable, technologies such as in vitro fertilization and surrogacy have become more accessible and more cost-effective, gaining broad societal acceptance in many parts of the world as a solution for infertile individuals, single intended parents and same-sex couples.

Last month (March 14, 2019), the U.S. State Department released its FY 2018 Annual Report on Intercountry Adoptions, which shows that U.S. residents adopted just over 4,000 children through intercountry adoption from October 2017 through September 2018—a 13 percent drop from the previous year. Many adoption advocates, including the Academy of Adoption and Assisted Reproduction Attorneys (of which I am a fellow), have witnessed, with a heavy heart, that:

The majority of orphans denied intercountry adoption are not finding equal or better solutions in their country of birth; on the contrary, they are living and dying in institutions in ever-growing numbers. Research conclusively shows that the majority of those who survive the orphanage experience will experience permanent emotional and physical harm and will age out into a world that will exploit them in horrible and degrading ways.

Growing Affluence in Emerging Economies
Some factors believed to have contributed to the decline in intercountry adoptions are the growing affluence in certain countries, as reported by U.S. News & World Report. U.S. adoptions from China, the source of most intercountry adoptions to the U.S. for the past several years, dropped to 1,475 in 2018, from a high of nearly 8,000 in 2005. The decline is attributed in part to China’s burgeoning economy, which has grown the country’s middle class and increased individual wealth, with an accompanying increase in domestic adoptions.

Changing Laws

With or without improved economic conditions, several countries with large numbers of children adopted abroad instituted policies encouraging domestic adoption and disincentivizing extra-national adoptions. For example, despite continuing poverty and institutional challenges, Haiti is working to establish a domestic foster care program; adoptions from that country to the U.S. also dropped in 2018, from 227 to 196.

As the U.S. News & World Report continues, Ethiopia also imposed a ban on foreign adoptions, in part due to concerns for the welfare of the adoptees and questions about the integrity of some adoption agencies. U.S. adoptions from Ethiopia dropped from 313 in 2017 to just 177 last year.

Politics and Policies

Ethiopia began red-flagging foreign adoptions following a spate of negative publicity about African children adopted to families abroad, including cases in which parents were allegedly tricked into surrendering their parental rights. Although such cases are few in number, they generate extensive, salacious media coverage, and the resulting damage to public perception is often long-lasting and resistant to the narrative of the overwhelmingly positive outcomes for intercountry adoptions.

As in the previous three years, no children were adopted to the U.S. from Russia in 2018, the lingering, unintended consequence of the U.S.’s passage of the 2012 Magnitsky Act, followed by passage of the Global Magnitsky Act in 2016. The original act was passed in response to the murder of a Russian whistleblower by Russian authorities while in detention. In angry reaction to the act, which restricts travel and freezes assets of individuals who commit human rights violations in Russia or elsewhere, Russian President Vladimir Putin banned all adoptions to the U.S. from Russia.

Rare But Tragic Failures

Authorities in some countries point to bad actors and tragic stories to justify bans on intercountry adoptions. In rare cases, U.S. adoptive parents have attempted to return adopted children to their countries of origin. In some cases, adopted children have been transferred from one home to another without authorization or official review. Some U.S. agencies reportedly have failed to meet other countries’ requirements for monitoring and reporting on adoptees’ welfare. Although cases of abuse or corruption are rare, a single headline about “baby selling” or exploitation of impoverished families can be all it takes to create official backlash and public protests. Sensational news stories are often followed by official bans or strategic slowdowns of the adoption process.

Whatever the reasons, those who pay the highest cost of the drop in intercountry adoptions are the many thousands of children who will languish in non-profit or government-funded institutions for their entire childhoods, too often only to fall prey to trafficking or other forms of exploitation upon aging out of their countries’ programs. Also injured are the many would-be parents who are willing and capable of offering loving homes and a better life to at-risk children, including many who have medical or developmental disabilities that negate their prospects for domestic adoption.

Choosing one’s path to parenthood is an intensely personal and impactful decision, one that will affect not just the intended parents and child, but entire extended families and communities. Some intended parents are dedicated to the mission of providing homes to those children in greatest need, only to have their best intentions questioned and subverted by the current system of international adoptions. Some eagerly accept the lifelong responsibility of caring for a child from an impoverished background or with special needs, only to face years of heartbreaking delays, bureaucratic obstacle courses, spiraling costs and, all too often, crushing disappointment in the end.

The drop in intercountry adoptions is evidence these global disincentives are taking their toll. In this new environment, the process of having a child via assisted reproductive technology, once considered more difficult, more costly and more time-consuming, now often compares favorably to the process of becoming a parent through intercountry adoption. We look forward to the time when the international community succeeds in ensuring that all children, regardless of their countries of origin or how are they are conceived, are wanted, cared for, sheltered and loved.

Richard Vaughn

Attorney Rich Vaughn is founder and principal of International Fertility Law Group, one of the world’s largest and best-known law firms focused exclusively on assisted reproductive technology, or ART, including in vitro fertilization (IVF), surrogacy, sperm donation or egg donation. Rich is co-author of the book “Developing A Successful Assisted Reproduction Technology Law Practice,” American Bar Association Publishing, 2017.

Peiya Wang
Paralegal (律师助理)

Peiya Wang joined IFLG as a paralegal in 2015, where she manages surrogacy, egg donation and parental establishment cases and provides translation services for many of IFLG’s international clients. Peiya moved to the United States in 2012 to attend Northeastern University in Boston, Massachusetts, receiving a Master of Science degree in Global Studies and International Affairs in 2014. Peiya moved to Los Angeles in 2015, received her paralegal certification from UCLA Extension, and obtained her second Master of Science degree in Legal Studies from Loyola Law School. Peiya relocated back to her hometown, Beijing, China in 2019 and works from IFLG’s Beijing office. When away from the office, Peiya is a dragon boat paddler and a ballroom dancer, where she favors Rumbas and Cha-chas. She is fluent in Mandarin and English.

Luis Sosa

Luis R. Sosa joined IFLG as a paralegal in 2016, where he enjoys pursuing his passion for family and reproductive law. While working toward his bachelor’s degree at Florida International University which he received in 2013, Luis worked as a paralegal and legal assistant for family law litigation firms in Miami and Washington, D.C. As a paralegal and case manager for IFLG, Luis, who is bilingual in English and Spanish, manages surrogacy, egg donation and other reproductive law cases. Luis has worked for IFLG in both Los Angeles as well as San Francisco, and is currently based in Dallas, Texas. In addition to spending time with husband Randy and dog Marty, Luis enjoys being outdoors and appreciating the arts.

Toni Hughes

After receiving her B.S. in Business Management, Toni joined IFLG to pursue her dream of working in the legal field. As a Paralegal with over 10 years of experience in the assisted reproduction technology field, Toni is our Managing Paralegal, responsible for training and managing our paralegal staff. From drafting legal documents to assisting our clients with post-birth matters, Toni embraces the challenge of learning something new in this field each day. Besides spending time with her son, Jordan, Toni enjoys exploring new things, cooking, spending time with family and friends, and serving as a Youth Advisor for “Next Generation.”


Kim has over 30 years of experience in the legal field and has worked exclusively in surrogacy and assisted reproduction law since 1999. Kim is a senior case manager responsible for managing parental establishment cases and interacting with IFLG’s Of Counsel attorneys across the country. With three children of her own, Kim understands the importance of family and finds working in this area of law a rewarding experience.

Rich Vaughn

Attorney Rich Vaughn combined his personal passion as a father of twin boys born via assisted reproductive technology (ART) with more than 20 years of experience in business and technology law to build International Fertility Law Group. Today IFLG is one of the most successful and best-known law firms in the world focused exclusively on fertility law, helping thousands of intended parents through empathetic listening, compassionate guidance, and unmatched legal expertise. As an advocate for reproductive freedom, Rich also contributes his knowledge and time to improving the understanding and practice of ART law, most recently as a founder of and speaker at the first Cambridge University International Surrogacy Symposium held in June 2019, as immediate past chair of the American Bar Association ART Committee, and as a popular presenter to law schools, faculty and advocacy organizations all over the world.

Elizabeth Tamayo

Elizabeth received her Bachelors of Science degree in Criminal Justice from California State University of Los Angeles. Shortly after graduating, she continued her education at the University of California, Los Angeles where she obtained her Paralegal certificate. Elizabeth is fluent in Spanish and has been in the legal field since 2009. She is excited to be a part of the IFLG Team helping families realize their dreams.

Sunny Chien

Sunny joined IFLG as a paralegal in 2017, where she manages surrogacy, egg donation and parental establishment cases for many of IFLG’s international clients. She holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Philosophy from California State University of Los Angeles, where she graduated cum laude. Sunny is bilingual in English and Mandarin and has extensive experience as a legal assistant and paralegal at Los Angeles-area law firms. She is excited to be part of the IFLG team. In her spare time, Sunny enjoys spending time with her family and their dog, going to the beach, cooking, and being outdoors.

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Molly O'Brien

Fertility law attorney Molly O’Brien began working in the field of assisted reproduction technology (ART) in 2005, at an egg donation agency and a surrogacy agency where she became familiar with all aspects of in-vitro fertilization, egg donation and the financial aspects of surrogacy. Since becoming an attorney in 2011, Molly has drafted and negotiated surrogacy, egg donation, sperm donation embryo donation agreements for hundreds of her clients all over the world.

Phoebe Sadler

Fertility law attorney Phoebe Sadler has a background in family law and has been practicing exclusively in the area of assisted reproduction technology (ART) law since 2018.

Rubina Aslanyan

Rubina has an extensive background in the legal field as a paralegal in Family Law and has worked in surrogacy and assisted reproduction law since 2012. Her area of focus is in managing and assisting clients with surrogacy, egg donation, and parental establishment cases for many of IFLG’s domestic and international clients. During her spare time, Rubina enjoys spending time with her family and dog Bella, traveling and cooking.

Alexander Espinoza
Legal Assistant

Alexander joined IFLG as a legal assistant in 2019, where he manages surrogacy, egg donation and parental establishment cases. Alex is bilingual in English and Spanish and has been in the legal field for 23 years. Alex is excited to join the IFLG team and pursuing his will to help others in the reproductive law process. In his spare time he loves spending time with his family and friends, being outdoors, road trips, loves music and dancing.

Cara Stecker
Senior Paralegal

After receiving her paralegal certificate in 2005, Cara began working in assisted reproductive law. During the fifteen years Cara has worked in this field, she has gained a wide range of experience and knowledge that she uses to help better assist clients and those involved in the assisted reproductive journey. Cara’s primary roles involve managing parental establishment matters and coordination with IFLG’s Of Counsel attorney network, drafting contracts and parental establishment court documents and providing support to other team members. Cara finds great joy in being a small part of a team of caring people who help others achieve their dream of having a family. In her spare time, Cara enjoys spending time with her husband and three children, watching her children play the sports they love, and she enjoys, running, cycling and exploring the outdoors in the sun.

Stephanie Kimble

Stephanie received her BS in History and Political Thought from Concordia University Irvine in 2015 and her Paralegal Certificate from University of San Diego later that same year. She has been working as a Paralegal since 2016 in Family and Reproductive Law. She is excited to be part of International Fertility Law Group working on managing Surrogacy, Egg donation and Parental Establishment Cases.

Trish Pittman
Assistant Financial Coordinator

With more than 20 years of experience in the field of accounting, Trish joined the IFLG team in 2019 as Assistant Financial Coordinator. Her client-facing focus at IFLG is to assist with all client trust accounting. Trish is the mother of two daughters and enjoys spending time teaching and learning new things from them. In her free time, she loves long walks in the park and reading suspense and mystery novels.

Katie Deaquino
Senior Paralegal

Katie is a Senior Paralegal with IFLG and has dedicated over sixteen years to the areas of surrogacy and reproductive law. She received her Paralegal Certificate from Coastline Community College and has worked with some of the top law firms in the assisted reproduction community. Katie is also a commissioned Notary Public. With IFLG, Katie manages Surrogacy, Egg Donation, and Parental Establishment cases and provides support to other IFLG team members. Katie truly enjoys helping others build their families through assisted reproduction and is thankful she has had the rewarding experience of assisting IFLG clients. Katie often spends her free time with her Husband, four young children and her bulldog “Bella”.

Elsa Jimenez
Legal Assistant

Elsa joined IFLG as a Legal Assistant in 2019, bringing more than 35 years of experience working in the legal profession (concentrating in tort and litigation matters). At IFLG she assists surrogates with their surrogacy and parental matters. The oldest of five siblings, born and raised in East Los Angeles to Mexican immigrant parents, Elsa loves “seeing the beauty of families forming” through assisted reproductive technology. She and her husband Carlos have four children and one grandson. Elsa enjoys jazz and ’80s music, being outdoors in nature, collecting teacups and tea pots, and spending time with her close-knit family.