The Spanish consulate in Ukraine this week began registering some 30 babies born by surrogate mothers, who had been blocked from leaving the country due to concerns over human trafficking and medical malpractice in the industry.
Every year, aspiring parents from across Europe make similar journeys — dodging surrogacy bans at home by travelling abroad and spending large sums of money in their bid to have a baby.
But what is surrogacy, where in Europe is it legal, and does the legislation need to change?
What is surrogacy?
Surrogacy is a method of assisted reproduction in which a woman carries and delivers a pregnancy for another couple or person.
Surrogacy is generally sought by people, known as “intended parents”, who want to have children but are unable to conceive themselves.
There are two types of surrogacy arrangements.
The more common form is gestational surrogacy where IVF is used to induce pregnancy in the surrogate using the egg of the intended mother or a donor.
In traditional surrogacy, a surrogate becomes pregnant using her own egg, making her the genetic mother.
Where in Europe is it legal?
New data provided to Euronews by Families Through Surrogacy, an Australia-based nonprofit that provides advice to people seeking surrogacy arrangements, shows that surrogacy is heavily restricted in Europe.
Italy, Spain, France and Germany are among those to outlaw all forms of surrogacy.
In Ireland, the Netherlands, Belgium and the Czech Republic, arrangements are “void and unenforceable”, meaning “there is no legislation recognising surrogacy and so no way to transfer parentage to the commissioning parents,” Families Through Surrogacy said.
In the UK, surrogacy is legal for UK nationals if it is altruistic, while Portugal also allows for altruistic surrogacy for heterosexual couples with medical needs.
Ukraine and Russia have the most lax laws on surrogacy in Europe, allowing people — including foreigners — to pay a surrogate for their services.
Who, where and how much?
Bill Houghton, founder of consultancy group Sensible Surrogacy, told Euronews that despite the restrictive legislation, surrogacy is becoming “much more popular”.
Of European couples Sensible Surrogacy works with, he said most come from the UK, Ireland, Italy, France, Germany and Sweden.
“About 50% of them are heterosexual couples and 50% are gay couples,” he said.
A recent study by Families Through Surrogacy found that Norwegians were the largest user group of surrogacy in Europe, while Spain was also a large market.
The closure of traditional markets, such as India, Nepal and Thailand, amid reports of exploitation means that new surrogacy hotspots have emerged in recent years.
Houghton noted that many Europeans opt to go to Ukraine, where surrogacy costs around $50,000 (€43,970), compared to more than $100,000 in the US.
A market is also emerging in Kenya, where surrogacy costs around $40,000 to $45,000 (€34,370-€38,670) but there is “no regulation”, he said.
Critics of surrogacy say the practice is open to exploitation of the surrogate, commodification of the child, and can lead to emotional and legal issues when it comes to parenthood and custody rights.
Swedish activist and writer Kajsa Ekis Ekman, the author of “Being and Being Bought — Prostitution, Surrogacy and the Split Self”, believes all forms of surrogacy should be banned.
“Surrogacy is baby trade and exploitation of women, and it goes against the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and therefore should not be allowed,” she told Euronews.
“Surrogacy turns babies into commodities and women into factories, and it is also an industry that leads to trafficking and to the sale of children for abuse.”
She added that any country that “does not allow the sale of children must not allow the erasure of the [surrogate] mother on the birth certificate nor when it comes to custody rights.”
However, others disagree.
“Banning surrogacy has been proven to simply encourage the practice to go underground, creating unnecessary risks for vulnerable surrogates, intended parents and children,” said Families Through Surrogacy founder Sam Everingham.
“Cross-border surrogacy is fraught with problems and given the high levels of infertility in developed countries as well as the increasing trend for gay couples to form families, European nations need to look carefully at their citizens’ attitudes to surrogacy and formulate laws that allow better access to domestic surrogacy," he added.