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Surrogate mother sues California couple

Helen Beasley
Helen Beasley  

SAN DIEGO, California (CNN) -- In a legal case that challenges the definition of parenthood, a British woman pregnant with twins is suing a California couple, saying the husband and wife backed out of a surrogacy contract after she refused to abort one of the fetuses.

The woman, Helen Beasley, 26, arrived in San Diego last week. She has met with reporters and says she wants to carry the twins to term and find adoptive parents for them. Her lawsuit -- for breach of contract, fraud and emotional distress -- was filed in San Diego Superior Court.

Beasley wants to revoke the California couple's parental rights so she can place the twins up for adoption

Diane Michelsen, an attorney for the parents -- Charles Wheeler and Martha Berman, attorneys who live in Berkeley -- said there is another couple available ready to "accept custody of these children by taking over the surrogacy contract." She said Beasley and her attorney want only to "exploit the situation."

A British surrogate mother and the California couple she agreed to bear a child for are in a legal fight after discovering she is carrying twins. CNN's Frank Buckley reports (August 14)

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CNN Legal Analyst Roger Cossack comments on the lawsuit brought forth by the surrogate mother (August 13)

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Michelsen, who spoke to reporters Sunday, refused to take questions about the case.

"Charles and Martha consider this entire situation to be a private matter, which has no place in the media," she said.

Beasley told CNN she wants to be involved in selecting adoptive parents for the twins. She said she did not think they should go to Wheeler and Berman.

"These parents have made it expressly clear that they have not wanted these children. They've said they wanted to find parents - that they don't want these children. I think that if they changed their mind it would only be because of public opinion," she said.

Sanford Benardo, an adoption attorney in New York, called the case "very complex." The contact involved would be illegal in some states, he said, but it is allowed under California law.

"We've got a rent-a-womb situation going on," he said in an interview with CNN. "Helen Beasley is interested in carrying for nine months in exchange for a fee. Berman and Wheeler are looking to rent space, you might say, for a nine-month-period, and a contract was arranged between the two of them. ... We don't know who the parent is here."

According to the lawsuit, Beasley became pregnant in March via in vitro fertilization with a donor's egg and Wheeler's sperm. Beasley signed a "gestational surrogacy agreement" with the California couple, whom she met through a surrogacy Web site. She was to be paid $20,000. According to the lawsuit, she has not received most of that money.

Trouble began at seven weeks when Beasley learned she was carrying twins. Beasley said she told the couple immediately, but they did not respond until the 13th week of her pregnancy, when they said they wanted a "selective reduction." That means one fetus would be aborted.

Beasley refused. According to the lawsuit, there was a verbal agreement between the parties that any selective reduction would take place prior to 12 weeks.

Theresa Erickson, the attorney for Beasley, disputed Michelsen's claim that another couple stands ready to assume responsibility for Beasley's pregnancy and the children, saying money has proved to be a stumbling block.

She said Berman and Wheeler are seeking reimbursement of $80,000 to cover expenses, and they allege that it was Beasley who broke the contract.


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