Surrogacy: new parents stuck in US amid Covid-19 shutdown
James Washington, a 37-year-old lawyer originally from Norfolk, UK, was on the US Department of State website last Thursday trying to arrange a passport to take his newborn son, born via surrogate in the US, home to Amsterdam, when a message popped up. Due to coronavirus, the US authorities would only be issuing passports for life-or-death emergencies. Everyone else would have to wait.
As a result, Washington and his husband, Rob, 36, and their 11-day-old baby are stuck in an Airbnb in Portland, Oregon. Under normal circumstances, the Washingtons would have applied for a US passport for their son, taken him home and applied for a parental order through the British courts. (Both men are British citizens.)
But they cannot now get the US passport, and the British passport office will not issue emergency travel documents as UK law does not yet recognise their son as a British citizen. (Technically, his surrogate mother and her husband are his legal custodians.) “We are stuck,” said James.
The Washingtons are not the only parents to have utilised the US’s comparatively relaxed surrogacy laws and then become trapped by the coronavirus pandemic. “There are hundreds of families currently stuck, or about to be stuck, in the US right now because of coronavirus,” said Robin Pope, an Oregon family lawyer and assisted reproduction specialist.
Pope has been keeping an unofficial tally of the babies born via surrogate who are now trapped in the US. According to her list there are 21, and more than 100 more babies are expected to be born via surrogate in the coming months. The parents come from countries including France, Singapore and Israel. Pope knows of a father from China who has been unable to get into the US to meet his child, born via surrogate in February, because the US banned foreign nationals arriving from China on 31 January.
Brilliant Beginnings, a British surrogacy agency, has eight babies due to be born via US surrogates in the next six months, and three babies, including the Washingtons’ son, currently stuck there. “Their parents are extremely worried about how they will get to the US in time for their birth,” said Natalie Gamble, of NGA Law, a UK expert in fertility and surrogacy law. “These babies are their babies and they need to be responsible for them from birth.”
Gamble is also aware of a British couple struggling to bring home their daughter born via surrogate in the nation of Georgia. “It’s the same problem, because the baby is not automatically British,” Gamble said. “If they could get emergency travel documents, they’d be able to get their baby home.”