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France told to recognise kids born to surrogates

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France told to recognise kids born to surrogates
France has been ordered to recognise the status of children born abroad to surrogate mothers. Photo: Terence Photography/Flickr
17:13 CEST+02:00
The European Court of Human Rights ordered France on Thursday to recognize the status of children born abroad to surrogate mothers, even though surrogacy is currently illegal in France. On Friday France said it would not be appealing against the ruling.

The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) ruled France must allow families to officially register the birth of babies born abroad to surrogate mothers, which would then pave the way for the children to become French citizens.

The ECHR ruled that by refusing to officially recognize the children France was undermining their identity within French society.

Thursday's verdict is linked to a case brought by two sets of French parents who hired surrogates in the United States, where surrogacy is legal in some states, and had children by them.

The Mennessons had twins daughters through a surrogate in California in 2000, while the Labassees had their daughter via proxy in 2001. All three of the children are American citizens.

Under usual circumstances, a child born abroad to French parents would automatically be granted French citizenship, but in the case of the two couples, authorities refused to recognize the couples’ position as parents to the children because they were born to surrogates. Meaning the children still haven't been granted French citizenship.

The European court ruled however that although these parents didn’t give birth to their children, they “live together in way that doesn’t distinguish their family life from its usual meaning.”

While Dominique Mennesson said the verdict was a "great relief", her lawyer Patrice Spinosi, told French daily Le Figaro the case could impact on thousands of children.

"In the eyes of French law, these children have no parents, not even the father who is raising them," said Spinosi. "Two thousand children in France are in the same situation as the Mennesson girls."

On Friday the French government announced that it would not appeal against the ruling, meaning unless the families decide, the order will come into force in three months.

Laurence Rossignol, Junior Minister for familes stressed that the ECHR ruling did not question France's right to make surrogacy illegal on its own territory but prioritised "the interests of the children" in cases where parents chose to use surrogacy.

'ECHR has guaranteed an after-sales service'

Although the ECHR didn't challenge France’s right to make surrogacy illegal some critics of the ruling have suggested that it will seriously undermine France’s ban. 

"This judgement by the European Court compels us, somehow, to 'close our eyes' if people use surrogacy abroad. You can now go quietly abroad to buy a child, the European Court guarantees an after-sales service," Legal expert Aude Mirkovic told Le Figaro.

Mirkovic, who is a spokeswoman for the anti-surrogacy group Juristes pour l'Enfance, believes France must respond by taking preventative measures to dissuade French parents from seeking out surrogate parents abroad. "We really have to take steps to deter the French," she said.

Currently those caught flouting the ban on surrogacy face stiff punishments. Anyone who puts parents in touch with surrogate mothers in exchange for money faces a maximum of five years in prison and a €75,000 fine if convicted.

Arrests for surrogacy are unusual, but not unheard of in France. In July 2013 a surrogate mother was hit with a €5,000 fine, the majority of which was suspended, for “artificial insemination”, French daily Le Monde reported.

Earlier this year a conservative French pressure group, backed by several lawmakers filed a legal complaint in France against American surrogacy agency Extraordinary Conceptions in California.

The agency brings potential parents in France into contact with American surrogates and has reportedly been hosting informal meetings in France.

The controversial issue of surrogacy has proved increasingly devisive in recent years in France, partly due to the fact it is seen as a route to parenthood for same-sex couples.

France's legalization of same-sex marriage last year and the opening up of adoption to gay couples was met with huge opposition and saw hundreds of thousands protest against the ground-breaking legislation.  

That extent of the protests appeared to dissuade the government from legalizing artificial insemination for lesbian couples, as it had initially intended. Surrogacy has remained prohibited for gay and straight couples, although the government had not intended to look at relaxing the law.

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