- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 5, 2016

A California woman reportedly has filed a lawsuit to have the state’s surrogacy law declared unconstitutional because it permits her to be asked to terminate one of the triplets she is carrying.

Melissa Cook is claiming that the U.S. Constitution’s due process and equal protection clauses make California’s surrogacy-enabling statute illegal, according to the New York Post.

A Georgia man who contracted the pregnancy with Ms. Cook reportedly has cited a provision in their contract that permits him to request a “reduction” — or termination of one of the triplets she is carrying.

The man threatened to “financially ruin” the woman if she refused, the Post reported.

Ms. Cook’s attorneys, including Harold Cassidy, have filed a 47-page complaint in Los Angeles Superior Court claiming that California’s surrogacy law is unlawful.

However, her lawsuit says she is the legal mother of the triplets and she will seek custody of at least one child. A custody hearing would determine the fate of the other two children.

Ms. Cook is about 23 weeks along in her pregnancy.

Surrogacy critic Jennifer Lahl on Tuesday said Ms. Cook’s case could be “the turning point” in third-party reproduction.

“Women across America have been bullied, intimidated, exploited and used by the commercial surrogacy industry that preys on the poor for profit,” said Ms. Lahl, a former pediatric nurse and president of the Center for Bioethics and Culture Network.

Already, other countries are banning commercial surrogacy because of abuses, she noted.

The Post also reported in November that the babies’ father, a Georgia man who has not been identified, hired Ms. Cook, 47, for $33,000 to have a child by in-vitro fertilization using his sperm and the eggs of a 20-year-old donor.

Ms. Cook, who has not met the man, said she was implanted with three embryos.

The father became increasingly troubled about the thought of triplets when he wanted only one or two children, and this concern prompted him to have his attorney, Robert Warmsley, write to Ms. Cook about the reduction.

Mr. Warmsley advised Ms. Cook that if she refused to “abide by the terms of the agreement,” she could forfeit “all benefits under the agreement, damages in relation to future care of the children [and] medical costs associated with any extraordinary care the children may need,” the Post said.

Ms. Cook’s attorney, Mr. Cassidy, is known for representing the surrogate mother in the 1986 “Baby M” case in New Jersey.

In that case, Mary Beth Whitehead agreed to accept $10,000 to carry a baby created with her egg and William Stern’s sperm. She later decided to fight for custody of the baby.

In the end, Mr. Stern and his wife received custody of the child, named Melissa, while Ms. Whitehead received visitation rights.

• Cheryl Wetzstein can be reached at cwetzstein@washingtontimes.com.

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