Surrogate mom refuses to abort fetus with birth defects

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Crystal Kelley was offered $10,000 to abort the child who she’s holding in this photo. (CNN)

When a Connecticut couple learned their surrogate mother was carrying a fetus with developmental disabilities, they offered her $10,000 to have an abortion, reported CNN.

Crystal Kelley, 29, demanded $15,000 to undergo a procedure that she claimed went against her religious beliefs.

The unnamed couple refused and a legal battle over the surrogacy contract and the child’s fate followed.

In August 2011, Kelley had signed an official contract with a surrogacy agency saying that she’d agree to abort if the fetus had a severe abnormality. Now she was carrying a disabled child, but she didn’t want to honor the agreement.

Determined to give the fetus a chance at life, Kelley fled Connecticut for Michigan, where under state law the surrogacy contract would be disregarded and she would be recognized as the legal guardian.

In Ann Arbor, she gave birth to a child with severe medical conditions.

As more people turn to a third party to carry their babies, complicated situations like this are challenging the ethics of surrogacy. When all three people involved in a surrogacy aren’t on the same page, what should happen?

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This isn’t the first time a surrogacy situation has gone bad and caught the attention of national media. In 2010, when a Canadian couple learned their surrogate mother was carrying a fetus that was likely to be born with Down syndrome, they demanded an abortion.

The surrogate didn’t want to abort the child, according to the National Post, and the child’s fate became about the surrogacy contract.

According to the couple’s agreement with the surrogate, if the surrogate birthed the child, the biological parents wouldn’t have any legal responsibility for the child.

But many legal experts are saying that if this situation had been brought to court the surrogacy contract would have been disregarded. Instead the court would draw from family law requiring the biological parents to support the child.

It’s hard to know what would have happened because a surrogacy contract had never been contested in a Canadian court, according to the National Post, and the surrogate in this case never filed a lawsuit and decided to have an abortion in the end.

But the story got the entire world talking about surrogacy and whether contracts should be followed in all situations. What happens when prospective parents don’t want the child being carried by a surrogate? Should they be forced to care for a child they don’t want or can they demand that the surrogate abort the child?

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Crystal Kelley revealed all the details of her complciated surrogacy to CNN. (CNN)

Crystal Kelley decided to become a surrogate mom because as a single mother of two daughters she desperately needed the $22,000 fee. Also, she struggled with fertility issues herself and liked the idea of helping out others in a similar situation.

The unnamed pair already had three children and wanted a fourth but the mother could no longer have children. For help, they turned to a surrogacy agency.

Kelley and the couple immediately bonded at their first meeting, and in October 2011 an embryo the couple had left over from a previous round of in-vitro fertilization was inserted into Kelley’s uterus.

Ten days later, Kelley was pregnant. The would-be parents were supportive through the beginning of the pregnancy, often checking in on Kelley during her first trimester when she suffered from morning sickness. The prospective parents gave Kelley and her two daughters holiday gifts.

The relationship started to sour in February when ultrasounds spotted signs of abnormalities. Things got worse when Kelley had a high-level ultrasound at five months and the doctor concluded that the baby would likely have a cleft lip and palate, a brain cyst and heart defects.

Because the doctors determined that the baby would need multiple heart surgeries after birth and would have only a 25 percent chance of leading a normal life, the couple decided that an abortion was the next best step. The couple’s three children were all premature and two of them struggled with ongoing health issues. They feared the child Crystal was carrying faced an even more challenging fate.

Kelley felt differently. She wanted to give the baby a chance at life.

A meeting at the hospital between the three was emotional.

Kelley told CNN:

They were both visibly upset. The mother was crying. They said they didn’t want to bring a baby into the world only for that child to suffer. … They said I should try to be God-like and have mercy on the child and let her go.

I told them that they had chosen me to carry and protect this child, and that was exactly what I was going to do,” Kelley said. “I told them it wasn’t their decision to play God.

Overwhelmed and frustrated, Kelley walked out of the meeting.

The couple hoped their surrogate would move forward with an abortion but when the intended mother realized Kelley failed to make the appointment with the hospital, she and her husband offered her $10,000 to move forward with the procedure.

Kelley was tempted but felt she should be compensated more to do something that went against her religious values. Kelley told CNN that in a weak moment she let the surrogacy agency know that she’d terminate the pregnancy for $15,000.

The couple declined the offer, but Kelley claims that before she even received that news she had decided to have the baby.

In a final attempt to push for an abortion, the parents hired a lawyer. Kelley had signed a contract agreeing to abort if the fetus had severe abnormalities but the contract didn’t indicate what constitutes a severe disability. The lawyer alerted Kelley that she’d need to pay back all fees if she didn’t have an abortion because she was breaking the contract.

Kelley hired her own lawyer, Michael DePrimo, an attorney in Hamden, Conn. DePrimo wrote back: “Ms. Kelley was more than willing to abort this fetus if the dollars were right.”

Then the couple changed their minds and decided that they would exercise their legal rights to keep the baby and after birth they’d put her in foster care.

The legal squabble continued. With the 24-week legal limit for abortion just around the corner, Kelley decided to leave Connecticut where state law says that the baby’s genetic parents—the ones who supplied the sperm—are the legal parents, according to CNN. In April 2011, she moved to Michigan, one of several states that disregards surrogacy contracts and views the woman who’s carrying the baby as the legal guardian. She also chose Michigan because C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital at the University of Michigan has an outstanding pediatric heart program.

In Ann Arbor, Kelley and her girls settled into a new life. As her pregnancy progressed, Kelley thought a lot about whether to keep the baby or give it up for adoption. She was already struggling financially and decided it would be best to give her up for adoption.

Through an online group, Kelley connected with a mother of a special needs child who would adopt her baby.

The situation too took a complicated turn a month before the baby was due last June. The Connecticut couple filed papers in Superior Court for parental rights, indicating that they wanted to be the legal parents.

By filing the papers, the couple was forced to reveal that the wife was not the baby’s genetic mother. The couple used an anonymous egg donor.

Baby S was born with a cleft lip and palate. (CNN)

In the midst of a legal battle, Kelley gave birth to a baby with medical problems that were far worse than ever expected.

CNN reports:

She has a birth defect called holoprosencephaly, where the brain fails to completely divide into distinct hemispheres. She has heterotaxy, which means many of her internal organs, such as her liver and stomach, are in the wrong places. She has at least two spleens, neither of which works properly. Her head is very small, her right ear is misshapen, she has a cleft lip and a cleft palate, and a long list of complex heart defects, among other problems.

Kelley’s name went on the birth certificate but the space for a father was left blank.

Two weeks later, Kelley finally struck a deal with the couple. The husband and wife agreed to give up their parental rights as long as they could maintain a relationship with the child.

Kelley handed over the child, who is identified as Baby S, to the chosen adoptive mother.

In the seven months since Baby S’s birth, the unnamed adoptive mother told CNN that the Connecticut couple visited and held the child.

“They do care about her well-being. They do care about how she’s doing,” she said.

Baby S is leading a life filled with medical complications. She gets food through a tube inserted into her stomach. Her head is small and she has facial abnormalities. If she lives, she has a 50 percent chance of ever walking.

Some might see her life as miserable but her adoptive mother sees a lot of hope and joy.

“S. wakes up every single morning with an infectious smile. She greets her world with a constant sense of enthusiasm,” her mother said in an e-mail to CNN. “Ultimately, we hold onto a faith that in providing S. with love, opportunity, encouragement, she will be the one to show us what is possible for her life and what she is capable of achieving.”

As for Kelley, she’s chronicling her experience on her blog where she receives both fan and hate mail. Some see her as a brave woman who saved a child’s life while others see her as a selfish person who recklessly brought an unhealthy child into the world when she had no right to make that decision.

I think both Kelley and the couple behaved badly in this terribly sad story. The lesson here seems to be that surrogate moms and prospective parents need to have open and honest discussions about possible pregnancy outcomes and how they would respond to different scenarios before a contract is ever signed. Most importantly, they need to make sure that they share similar views on abortion.

The hero in this story is undoubtedly the selfless adoptive mother who was happy to care for Baby S and love her like her own. I can only hope that the child’s upcoming surgeries are successful and her medical condition improves.

What do you think?

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One Response

  1. phil esposito-doyen says:

    American women are now free to consign a life of suffering to someone, or to murder a viable baby because it’s inconvenient, or to reap financial benefits from a marriage they’ve abandoned.

    No wonder fewer and fewer men are dumb enough to marry these skanks.