5 faces of India's proposed surrogacy ban
Updated 6:41 AM ET, Thu September 8, 2016
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- Supporters say the ban will protect women being used as "womb factories"
- But people desperate to have children say the new legislation will hurt them
New Delhi (CNN)India may soon no longer be the place to go for childless couples wanting a baby.
A new ban on surrogacy has been proposed by the country's top government officials, who say that the system lacks clear and enforceable regulations and has been abused.
The rules could change as soon as the end of 2016.
We spoke to Indians affected by the proposed law to get a better understanding of how it could change their lives.
Ajay and Babita Bhati have been trying to have a baby for 22 years.
The couple, aged in their late thirties, opted for surrogacy after several rounds of failed in vitro fertilization.
"You can't imagine, I'm one of three brothers and both my brothers have children," Ajay Bhati says. "The biggest problem in the whole family was that we couldn't have a baby."
Two months ago, they were delighted to welcome the birth of their daughter Khyati Bhati.
"The whole family, including all of my relatives; were so happy from that day she was born," he says. "That we had a daughter means more to us than having a son."
They are both against the proposed surrogacy bill. "We had no hope and now we have a baby," Ajay says. "If surrogacy is not allowed and there is a ban, then how will people like us become parents?"
Soumya Swaminathan helped draft the proposed bill, and sees the regulation as a way to correct a system that leaves women vulnerable.
"The whole reason [for the bill] is because of a large number of complaints from women's groups and from the women themselves," said Swaminathan, the Director General of the Indian Council of Medical Research in Delhi.
"There are reports of surrogate women and children being abandoned or not properly treated, visa issues with a child being born for foreign couples who were coming in for surrogacy."
Other reasons include the class divide, as surrogacy is often a costly procedure and the surrogate mothers are those who come from poor backgrounds, she said. These women could be pushed to this career by their families to quickly earn a lot of money.
"Our women were literally being used as womb rental factories. So we thought it was very important that we move a bill to protect these women."
She's 26 and from Kolkata, India, and doesn't want to be named in case her family finds out what she's doing.
Pooja, as we'll call her, is a first-time surrogate mother.
She tells CNN she doesn't understand why the government wants to ban what is, to her, a job.
"If we are getting benefited why does the government have a problem with that?" she said.
"The government is not helping with our bills and expenses. We work in big houses, my husband is a daily wage laborer and earns $3 a day, what can we do with that money?"
Like many of the other woman who do this, she plans to use her surrogacy fee to help support her family.
"We will be able to make our children's future with the money."
THE HOPEFUL PARENT
Angad, 27, reached out to Dr. Nayana Patel in early 2015 with a request: he wanted to have a baby through surrogacy. The only problem was that he was not in a committed heterosexual marriage.
The doctor quickly rejected his proposal, saying it was not possible for her to help him because he was gay and it was against the guidelines.
The Indian government issued guidelines in 2012 saying that only heterosexual, married couples could be granted a visa for medical surrogacy. Later, the government issued additional guidelines limiting it to married Indian couples.
Angad, who declined to share his last name for fear of repercussions about his sexuality in a country where homosexuality is criminalized, was not surprised by the doctor's response.
"I was expecting such a reply. But it will not stop me," he said. "I'm the only son in my family and I have to have a child to continue my family hierarchy."
Dr. Kaberi Banerjee has delivered more than 100 babies to surrogate mothers at her Advanced Fertility & Gynecology Center in Delhi.
She says the proposed ban will make it impossible for those who want children because of social norms in Indian society.
"When the couple comes for in vitro fertilization treatment, they don't even discuss that they are coming. Surrogacy is still a taboo word in our families... forget discussing, they won't even be able to ask."
The clause in the ban that will require couples to seek out a close relative to carry their baby instead of a commercial surrogate also presents a dilemma, she said.
"What is the relationship between the baby's relatives and genetic parents? It's going to be very complicated."