Ireland’s Health Minister Rejects Proposed Amendment To Prohibit Pedophiles, Sex Offenders From Buying Children Via Surrogacy

The Health Minister of Ireland has rejected a proposed amendment to a recently passed Assisted Human Reproduction Bill which would have prohibited convicted sex offenders – including pedophiles – from purchasing babies from surrogate mothers, in Ireland or overseas.

Health Minister Stephen Donnell rejected a series of proposed changes during a debate in the Seanad on Thursday 20 June created by Senator Sharon Keogan, a critic of surrogacy.  

The Assisted Human Reproduction Bill (2022) passed without vote at the end of May. The bill outlines a framework for surrogacy within Ireland, limiting a legal surrogacy arranged to couples and surrogate mothers who have lived in Ireland for at least 2 years. The couple would need to have “at least one genetic link to the child” and there is to be no commercial transaction involved. However, surrogate mothers will be compensated for “reasonable expenses.”

The bill also outlines requirements for international surrogacy arrangements, outlining that children born internationally via commercial surrogacy to Irish citizens can receive legal recognition in Ireland. Critics of the bill have argued that international commercial surrogacy will make up the vast majority of the arrangements due to the ban of commercial surrogacy transactions within Ireland.

Senator Keogan previously said in a committee meeting on surrogacy that she “wholeheartedly objects to the commercialization of the human child and the relegation of women to the status of simply incubator or wombs for hire.” She added that she believes surrogacy is “harmful, exploitative, and unethical,” noting that it was not a human right to have a child.

Keogan proposed 15 amendments in total to the Assisted Human Reproduction Bill (2022), all of which were rejected by Health Minister Donnell.

One amendment would have seen baby buyers face harsh penalties such as fines or prison if they ever abandon a child conceived through surrogacy. Keogan defended this amendment saying it would serve as a deterrent “against negligent and irresponsible behavior that could harm the child or the birth mother’s well-being.”

“By prohibiting such individuals from entering surrogacy services again, the legislation seeks to prevent further occurrences of child abandonment and to hold accountable those who fail to fulfill their responsibilities as parents,” Keogan explained.

Keogan advocated for the use of fines and imprisonment for offenders, saying this reflects “the seriousness of child abandonment in the context of surrogacy and underscores the legal consequences faced by individuals who violate these regulations.”

Child abandonment is a serious issue in the surrogacy industry. Reports from Ukraine, India, Thailand, and Nepal show that many biological parents abandon children, particularly those with disabilities, born from surrogacy, leaving these children in developing countries that often lack the capacity to provide medical care and high quality of life.

“By combining legal penalties with ethical standards rooted in international instruments such as the Oviedo Convention, the amendments seek to create a framework upholding the well-being and integrity of children conceived through surrogacy services,” Keogan argued during the committee hearing.

In 2020, an Italian couple abandoned a baby girl born to a surrogate mother in Ukraine, leaving her in the custody of a nanny. The nanny was forced to contact Italian authorities fearing the couple would not return. Italian authorities at the Juvenile Prosecutor’s Office were able to track down the “parents” and confirmed that the couple did not intend to take their daughter back. The little girl was placed up for adoption.

Another one of the amendments proposed by Keogan would have banned single men from accessing surrogacy. Health Minister Donnell blasted this amendment as “unacceptably discriminatory.”

A single male applicant would have to be genetically related to the child and have to satisfy the regulatory authority that they met all the criteria before their application were approved,” he said.

Keogan also attempted to have the minimum length of time surrogates and intending parents must be residing in Ireland extended from 2 years to 5 years, fearing that immigrant women who have recently relocated to Ireland would be vulnerable to exploitation. She was particularly concerned about Ukrainian women fleeing the Ukraine war to Ireland.

Senator Mary Seery Kearney denied that Ukrainian women fleeing the war in Ukraine were particularly vulnerable during the hearing. Notably, Kearney purchased a baby via surrogacy in May of 2015 from a surrogate mother in India. Under current Irish law she is not the legal mother of the little girl she purchased via surrogacy, but her husband is her legal father. She was granted guardianship after living with the child for 2 years.

Kearney praised the legislation, and stated that she hoped this legalization will allow her to gain full legal rights over the little girl she purchased from India. She was a keen supporter of international surrogacy being legalised under the bill.

“I had to be a co-habitee for two years with my own child before I could apply for guardianship. David [her husband] had to give his consent for that,” Kearney said perviously about her “surrogacy journey.”

The final amendment proposed by Keogan would have explicitly prohibited sex offenders from utilizing surrogacy to have children. Donnell rejected this final amendment on the grounds that it is up to the regulatory agency that will be established to carry out child safety assessments to determine the suitability of an applicant.

“In particular, it is envisaged that any issues relating to previous offences against children or women would be discovered through the safety of the child assessment. As such, I am not in a position to accept the amendments,” Donnelly said.

Keogon expressed disappointment that this amendment in particular did not pass.

“In relation to that particular section, Minister Donnolly.. in relation to section fifteen, I am very disappointed that you won’t accept that amendment… As a foster parent over the years, I can tell you that .. sexual crime against children is not exclusively to men, but also is to women. And I am really, really disappointed that you won’t accept that, and actually it’s very disturbing that you won’t accept that, particularly someone that has been convicted of a crime against a child.”

In a previous debate on the bill, Donnell had expressed urgency with passing the bill due to the likelihood of an upcoming election. He has been criticized for rushing a bill that addresses such a complex issue.

Keogan has been outspoken about her stance on surrogacy. She previously resigned as a member of the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth stating she no longer felt safe. This came after she was heavily criticized for the comments she made during the committee meeting on international surrogacy in April 2022.

She was asked to leave the committee meeting for stating she did not believe it was anyones right to have a child. Independent senator, Lynee Ruane accused her of bigotry.

“I think you’ll find that you are, and you should I think maybe you should also check your Christian values,” Ruane said during the hearing. “You’re crude, and you’re cold.” Despite the accusation, Keogan had never stated her Christian beliefs were her justification for her stance on surrogacy during the hearing.

Following the committee meeting, Keogan penned a letter to the committee chair, Jennifer Whitmore, expressing concern with the way she was treated.

“A member of the Committee then referred to me as a bigot, crude, and cold and that I should ‘check my Christian values’ when I walk in the door,” Keogan wrote.

“I wish to object to this deeply personal attack on me during a public meeting and contend that the language used by the member was inflammatory, discriminatory and sought to characterize me and my contribution unfairly.”

Speaking to Reduxx, Gabriella Gallagher of the Irish Coalition Against Surrogacy condemned the Health Minister’s rejection of the proposed amendments.

“The decision of Health Minister Stephen Donnelly to reject amendments seeking to safeguard mothers and babies in surrogacy arrangements is disappointing to those fighting against the exploitative practice of surrogacy,” she said.

“His decision to oppose an amendment to prevent single men from commissioning surrogates goes against everything we know about child safeguarding and the mother-infant bond, yet the Minister claims that it is ‘unacceptably discriminatory’ and ‘extraordinarily offensive’ to suggest that single men should not avail of surrogacy. His conflation of single men commissioning surrogates to birth them a child with single fathers raising children alone due to bereavement/separation is completely disingenuous. The idea that not being discriminatory or offensive towards single men is more important than the wellbeing of the child shows where priorities in this bill lie.”

Gallagher in particular highlighted Keogan’s amendment to prevent sex offenders from utilizing surrogacy services, noting that it was “shocking” that it had been dismissed.

“There have been a number of high profile cases worldwide whereby child sexual offenders have gained access to children via surrogacy and gone on to abuse those children,” she said. “Exclusion of those who harm children from accessing surrogacy should be a basic tenet in any piece of legislation that seeks to ‘regulate’ surrogacy as this bill does. There is absolutely no reason for this amendment to be rejected.”

In 2015, Australia’s Family Court awarded custody of a girl born through surrogacy to a man with 22 child sex offenses. The court ruled that the toddler, named Pipah, could not return to Thailand to live with her birth mother, despite her surrogate father’s history of pedophilia. The case resulted in widespread backlash, and pushed Thailand to reform its surrogacy laws.

Gallagher expressed disappointment that there appeared to be efforts to rush through the legislation despite its far-reaching consequences for women and children.

“It is clear the Health Minister is determined to push the Bill through to pass into law as soon as possible due to the threat of a general election being called. But he must not forget that this piece of legislation is the first of its kind globally,” she said.

“This is a complex piece of legislation that affects the rights and wellbeing of women and children not just in Ireland, but in all countries where Irish residents commission surrogacy arrangements.”

Reduxx is your source of pro-woman, pro-child safeguarding news and commentary. We’re 100% independent! Support our mission by joining our Patreon, or consider making a one-time donation.

Shay Woulahan

Shay is a writer and social media content creator for Reduxx. She is a proud lesbian activist and feminist who lives in Northern Ireland with her partner and their four-legged, fluffy friends.

Shay Woulahan
Shay Woulahan
Shay is a writer and social media content creator for Reduxx. She is a proud lesbian activist and feminist who lives in Northern Ireland with her partner and their four-legged, fluffy friends.