Fetuses and Surrogacy Lose in Legal Battle

A battle between a British surrogate mother and a California couple who allegedly demanded she abort one of the twins she is carrying will have no real winners, but at least two losers, experts say — the twins and surrogate parenting itself.

The case involves Helen Beasley, a 26-year-old surrogate mother who is six months pregnant, and is suing Charles Wheeler and Martha Berman because, she claims in legal papers, they backed out of their agreement when she refused to abort one of the twins she is carrying.

The couple denies the charge, but the case, involving the Internet, possible abortion and echoes of last winter's battle over American twins adopted illegally in Britain, has been caught in the media spotlight.

When a ‘Private Matter’ Turns Into a ‘Media Campaign’

"What makes this case such a media frenzy is that society frowns upon people abandoning children," said Shirley Zager of the Organization of Parents Through Surrogacy in Gurnee, Ill. "And then you throw in the abortion issue and you have anti-abortion groups weighing in on that matter. But in my opinion, Helen Beasley made a huge mistake by turning this into a media campaign.

"I believe the babies have been exploited — their privacy was invaded, the parents' [the California couple's] names were revealed," Zager continued. "In a case like this, surrogacy has unfairly received a black eye, and my fear is that legislators will look at this and think we, or those of us who run private surrogate parenting organizations, are improper and that we don't handle things properly."

The case began after the couple met Beasley on a surrogate-parenting Web site last year. In March, Beasley underwent in-vitro fertilization in California with Wheeler's sperm and eggs from a donor selected by the couple. In the written contract, the couple agreed to pay Beasley $20,000 to carry their child.

Wheeler and Berman, Beasley says, only wanted one baby, not two, and both sides had a verbal agreement for a "selective reduction" where one fetus would be aborted before the 12th week of pregnancy.

Beasley claims she told Wheeler and Berman she was pregnant with twins in her seventh week, but that they didn't tell her to have a selective reduction until she was in her 13th week.

At that point, Beasley says she refused to have an abortion out of concern for her own health and has filed two lawsuits. The first, filed in San Diego Superior Court, is for fraud and breach of contract and emotional distress; the other was filed in family court and seeks to revoke the couple's parenting rights so Beasley herself can find parents for the twins she plans to carry full-term.

"Their parents don't want them. They've made that very clear," Beasley told ABC San Diego affiliate KGTV in an interview. "You can't help but get attached to them. I just want what's best for them."

Other Parents Ready?

Wheeler and Berman say they were not trying to force Beasley into an abortion and had no plans to abandon the unborn fetuses at all. In a statement Sunday through their attorney, Diane Michelsen, they said they informed Beasley that they would find a couple to adopt the twins when they were born before she filed the suit and approached the media.

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