Efforts underway to bring surrogate babies from Thailand

Gideon Sa’ar says government is working to clear way for 65 trapped babies, as advocacy group plans a string of protests

Illustrative: Eran Pnini Koren and Avi Koren, a gay Israeli couple, with their child conceived through a surrogacy procedure in Thailand. (Facebook)
Illustrative: Eran Pnini Koren and Avi Koren, a gay Israeli couple, with their child conceived through a surrogacy procedure in Thailand. (Facebook)

Israeli diplomats are working with Thai authorities to clear the way for dozens of babies born to surrogates to be allowed into Israel, Interior Minister Gideon Sa’ar said Sunday, appealing for calm in the wake of an advocacy campaign around the issue.

There are some 65 cases of babies stuck in Thailand that were conceived by homosexual Israeli couples and birthed, or are about to be birthed, by surrogate Thai women, according to the group “Help Us Bring the Babies Home.”

The group formed a Facebook page last week that has already garnered some 14,000 “Likes” and the support of Gal Uchovsky, a prominent Tel Aviv LGBTQ activist and journalist.

The babies were conceived and born, or will be born, through the arrangements of Israeli couples, but are unable to come to Israel because the Interior Ministry has not granted Israeli citizenship to the infants, according to an advocacy group formed around the issue.

The ministry maintains that bureaucracy is snagged on Thai regulations that now require surrogate mothers to legally surrender their rights as a parent of the baby, a situation that complicates bringing the newborns to Israel.

In a statement on his Facebook page, Sa’ar said the government is doing all it can to untangle the bureaucratic knot that has left the babies stranded in Thailand, asking protesters not to hold marches outside his Tel Aviv home.

Gideon Sa'ar at a recent press conference. (photo credit: Yossi Zeliger/Flash90)
Gideon Sa’ar at a recent press conference. (photo credit: Yossi Zeliger/Flash90)

“A publicity campaign on the matter is not a way of solving it quicker and I hope that it won’t damage the efforts that are being made on the subject,” Sa’ar wrote. “One way or another, I have ordered my ministry’s workers to approve issuing passports for the children without delay as soon as the foreign office reaches an agreement with the Thai authorities.”

“According to all the legal sources — you cannot take children out of Thailand unilaterally with reaching an agreement with the Thai authorities,” he warned. “The outcome of doing something like that is likely to complicate both the parents and the State of Israel.”

Sa’ar empathized with the difficult situation of the parents and noted that he had already raised the alarm about the impending problem last year in a letter he sent to the justice and health ministers, and the deputy foreign minister.

“In the letter I warned of the situation that was brought to my attention in which surrogacy agreements were signed between Israeli citizens even though the matter was not regulated by law in Thailand a fact that was likely to make it difficult to get the babies out of Thailand,” Sa’ar said. “The state has been trying in past weeks to reach an understanding with the Thai authorities in order to resolve this painful human issue.

The minister said that the foreign ministry had taken up the matter with Thai authorities as it would for any problem concerning Israeli citizens outside of the country.

According to the adovcacy group, the affected parents have followed all the legal and bureaucratic procedures required of them from the Thai authorities. “Many couples, from all over the world, perform a similar procedure in Thailand, and return to their home country with no problem,” the group said. It also noted that some of the Israeli parents have had to extend their visa in Thailand while dealing with the issue and that some of the newborns were without proper health care and insurance.

Some 20 babies have been born to Israeli couples through surrogacy in Thailand in recent weeks, and some 40 are due to be born shortly, according to Channel 2. On Sunday, the channel reported that the Interior Ministry has refused to grant citizenship to the babies due to a conflict with Thai law, which automatically grants citizenship to the babies according to the birth mother.

According to a statement from the ministry issued to Channel 2 the Foreign Ministry issued a notice and a travel warning to that effect at the end of December 2013.

However, MK Nitzan Horowitz (Meretz), himself a member of the gay community, who plans to raise the issue in the Knesset, said Sunday that there is “no reason” for the Israeli surrogate babies to be denied entry into Israel, when “citizens from many other countries complete the processes of surrogacy in Thailand without any problem.”

The surrogacy procedure is extremely expensive and, according to Horowitz, many families have been put in “dire” financial straits by the situation and the delay.

Thailand permits surrogacy but has no explicit laws on the matter. However, in December, the Thai authorities began to formulate an official policy on surrogacy by foreigners, which led to the Foreign Ministry warning, according to a Haaretz report from last week.

Israel does not permit homosexual couples to initiate the surrogacy procedure in the country, forcing many who wish to have children to seek a solution abroad.

According to the website New Life in Thailand — one of the many companies that provide Thai surrogacy services for foreigners — both the Thai birth mother and the foreign father (sperm donor) are registered as the parents, and then a legal procedure is conducted whereby the mother gives up her rights to the child. The father must then acquire citizenship for the baby, which, in the case of Israel, requires a genetic test to prove paternity.

In December, Health Ministry Yael German announced that she intends to implement a 2010 panel recommendation to open up the surrogacy procedure to Israeli homosexual couples.

Israel suffers from a shortage of surrogate mothers. According to a 2013 report on the news site Walla, from 2007 to 2012, 313 Israelis found surrogate mothers abroad, compared to only 228 in Israel. The imbalance has become even worse in recent years; in 2012, 126 went through the process abroad, while only 41 did so in Israel.

 Lazar Berman contributed to this report.

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