A landmark bill to permit gay couples as well as single men and women in Israel to obtain surrogacy services overcame a major hurdle Sunday when it was approved by the cabinet, overturning an appeal by Housing Minister Uri Ariel. The legislation is set to be presented for a Knesset vote at a later date, and will likely pass into law.
Members of the Jewish Home party opposed the passage of the bill, while the remaining MKs supported it.
The proposed legislation would grant the same benefits afforded to heterosexual couples in Israel, and further extend surrogacy rights, allowing married women to serve as surrogate mothers.
The age of eligible surrogate mothers would be raised from 36 to 38. However, the bill stipulates that individuals seeking surrogacy must be under the age of 54, and would only offer services for up to two children.
Health Minister Yael German hailed the decision, which she said paved the way for “longed-for equality in Israeli society.”
“We promised and we came through [on that promise],” she said. “This is a day of good tidings. The bill strikes a balance between the desire and the right of everyone to be a parent, and between the preservation of surrogacy and its rights.”
“This is an important step toward changing the face of Israeli society, and raising awareness,” Yesh Atid MK Ofer Shelah said. “The surrogacy law is a significant process toward equality and openness, and from the moment it was presented by the health minister, we promised we would fight without compromising until it passes in the cabinet and Knesset. We kept this promise, despite a political struggle that wasn’t simple, and we will continue to keep it until it becomes part of Israeli law.”
The Ministerial Committee for Legislation approved the bill in March; however, due to Ariel’s appeal the advancement of the bill was temporarily suspended.
Israeli restrictions on surrogacy have prompted many same-sex couples to fly abroad in order to obtain a surrogate mother, a process both costly and complicated.
The prime destination for foreign surrogacy used to be India until last year, when that country made it illegal to be a surrogate for same-sex couples. Thailand was another favored location, but a recently introduced Thai law under which babies are automatically granted citizenship according to the citizenship of their birth mothers complicated matters.
In January, following an incident in which several same-sex couples were temporarily stuck in Thailand with their newborn or soon-to-be-born babies, a government statement instructed Israeli homosexual couples to avoid surrogacy procedures in the Asian country, and warned that as of November 30, 2014, the Israeli government would no longer provide assistance to parents of babies born there.
Israel suffers from a shortage of surrogate mothers. Between 2007 and 2012, the Walla news site reported, 313 Israelis found surrogate mothers abroad, compared to only 228 in Israel. The imbalance has become even more pronounced recently: In 2012, 126 people went through the process abroad, while only 41 did so in Israel.