Rich Vaughn, IFLG: Surrogates Gift Gift of Parenthood

Worried Surrogacy Is Exploitative? Try Talking to A Surrogate!

As sometimes happens, I had one of those days recently during which events seemed to highlight for me some of the most critical issues in the field of assisted reproductive technology (ART) law today.

I traveled out of state a few days ago for a series of client and professional meetings. The first part of my extraordinary day took me to a hospital, where I had the opportunity to view the newborn nursery. It is unusual for my work to take me to a hospital, and it had been several years since I had encountered that sight: rows of tiny, bundled babies, swaddled and shielded behind protective glass windows. It was a moving reminder of why we do the work we do. It took me back more than a decade, to the birth of my and Tommy’s twin sons, now 11, who were created via egg donation and surrogacy—a life-changing experience both personally and professionally. That miraculous experience of becoming a dad via ART motivated me to establish my firm, International Fertility Law Group, which specializes in fertility law.

In my second meeting of the day I met with a surrogate, who was undergoing her second pregnancy as a surrogate. A mother of two, she told me that her pregnancies had been so easy and her children such a source of joy that she decided to become a surrogate to help others experience that joy. As we talked about the upcoming delivery, I was struck by how caring she was, by the genuine happiness she felt for the parents. 

Later the same day, I met with three local family law attorneys—two with whom I had worked before. During the course of our meeting, the conversation meandered onto legal issues related to same-sex intended parents and adoption. One of my colleagues, who practices in a “red” state, told us about a client who wanted to surrender her child for adoption and felt strongly that she wanted the child to be adopted by a same-sex couple. The woman was told by the adoption agency that their policy was to never place children with LGBT couples. The birth mother asked the adoption agency whether, if she would otherwise choose to terminate the pregnancy, that would change their minds… and she was told, “No, go ahead and abort.” The absurdity of that response (to abort rather than place the child with a gay couple) is among the many reasons I am also so very personally invested and passionate about helping LGBT individuals build their families. Building a family through adoption or assisted reproduction is never an accident… these families are created with so much love and purpose.

Fortunately, the birth mother in this case was able to arrange for a same-sex couple to adopt her child—but she had to go to another state to do so. Today, seven years after her baby was adopted, the child is thriving in a loving home.

Later, reflecting on the day, I could not help but think of the recently organized opposition to efforts to overturn New York state’s 30-year-old surrogacy ban.

With the support of Governor Andrew Cuomo, in 2019 legislation was on track to establish a groundbreaking Surrogate Bill of Rights, allow legal enforcement of tightly regulated surrogacy agreements and streamline the onerous “second-parent adoption” procedure required of non-biological intended parents, among other measures. As we reported, on February 27, 2019, the New York State Assembly Judiciary Committee approved The Child Parent Security Act. With both houses of the state legislature in the hands of Democrats, proponents were confident it would become law. But before the bill made it to a vote of the full House, it hit an unexpected roadblock from the Left. Feminist activists, including Gloria Steinem, and left-wing legislators—traditionally our allies in the movement for reproductive rights—came out against the bill, citing concerns about potential exploitation of surrogates and “selling” of babies conceived and born using ART. (Read our report here.)

The unexpected opposition derailed the bill in 2019; however, Cuomo has promised to continue pushing for its passage in 2020. Adding to the challenges, a rival bill, introduced in mid-February by State Senator Liz Krueger, has confused the situation further.

As I thought back to my discussion with that caring surrogate that day, I remembered my and Tommy’s experience of working with our egg donor and surrogate through multiple cycles, the disappointing failed attempts at in vitro fertilization, the excitement when we finally got pregnant, and the joy and wonder my husband I shared at the boys’ birth. Children who are born via ART are so purposefully wanted, so painstakingly protected and cared for through pregnancy and birth, and so cherished and welcomed into their new families. I thought about the surrogate’s empathy for the parents whose dreams she was helping to fulfill. It made me wonder: Have any of those activists so opposed to surrogacy ever actually spoken to a surrogate? Far from feeling exploited, she was thrilled at the opportunity to help create new life and to offer others the gift of parenthood that she had been so fortunate to receive.

All humans are prone to make judgments based on our own life experiences and fields of expertise—all too often without thinking through the impacts upon those coming from a completely different place. Protecting low-income or otherwise vulnerable women from exploitation is essential and the right thing to do; the most effective way to do it is to enact strong laws and implement best practices to carefully screen and legally protect potential surrogates and intended parents alike, as is done in the United States. Prohibiting surrogacy in an attempt to protect one group of women from exploitation also limits the choices of women who are infertile, LGBT intended parents and would-be surrogates and encourages bad actors to operate underground. As lawmakers and advocates work to develop sensible regulations and safeguards for this rapidly evolving industry, I encourage any of them seeking clarity to talk to a surrogate!

Rich Vaughn
Richard Vaughn
rich@iflg.net

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
PEIYA WANG(王培娅)
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 received her bachelor’s degree from Beijing Technologies and Business University, where she majored in Marketing. She moved to the United States in 2012 to attend Northeast 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 and received her paralegal certification from UCLA Extension. 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 SOSA
Paralegal

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, 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. In addition to spending time with husband Randy and dog Marty, Luis enjoys being outdoors and appreciating the arts.

Toni Hughes
TONI HUGES
Paralegal

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.”

Miesha Cowart
MIESHA COWART
Financial Coordinator

Miesha Cowart joined IFLG as a financial specialist in 2014 following a successful career in development and business finance. Miesha previously worked for 10 years in the construction industry as a controller and for 13 years as Development Coordinator for the non-profit U.S. Fund for UNICEF. In her free time, Miesha works with “Next Generation” at her church. “They are my heartbeats!” she says of the youth in her community.

Kim
KIM DEVEREAUX
Paralegal

Kim has over 25 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 of surrogacy and egg donation cases, and is also 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
RICHARD B. VAUGHN
Founder

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 TAMAYO
Paralegal

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 CHIEN
Paralegal

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
MOLLY O'BRIEN
Partner

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.