Society

Legal Battle Brews Over Surrogate Mother's Triplets

| by Amanda Andrade-Rhoades
Melissa CookMelissa Cook

Melissa Cook, a 47-year-old from Woodland Hills, California, became pregnant with triplets after she agreed to become a surrogate for a man in Georgia, who used his sperm and the eggs of a 20-year-old egg donor.

Cook was reportedly implanted with three embryos through in vitro fertilization. She says she was initially offered $33,000 to have a child for the man, plus an additional $6,000 for each additional child. 

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The man later said he wants only two children and asked Cook to abort one of the fetuses, even though Cook’s pregnancy is now close to the 24-week mark, at which point abortion is illegal in California. According to a provision in Cook’s contract with the man, he is allowed to request a “reduction,” the New York Post reported.

When Cook decided not to abort one of the fetuses, the father’s attorney, Robert Walmsley, allegedly threatened her with financial ruin, although the unidentified father is still paying Cook. Cook offered to adopt one of the children, but the father denied that request.

Wamsley told The Daily Beast:

“Under California law, he is entitled to a judgment establishing his parentage. As a result of that he’s entitled to custody of his children -- all of them. Any request for a reduction earlier was done for her protection and to avoid major complications associated with the children. In one respect, by not doing the reduction she’s risking the lives of three children and maybe her own health. No one wants to make a decision to reduce, but sometimes a difficult decision needs to be made.”

Cook is now suing the state of California, claiming its surrogacy laws are unconstitutional. “I no longer view surrogacy arrangements in the same favorable light I once did. Children derive a special benefit from their relationship with their mother,” she said in a statement to the New York Post. "I now think that the basic concept of surrogacy arrangements must be re-examined, scrutinized and reconsidered.”

Cook claims she’s the legal mother of the triplets and therefore has a say in their future, although she was initially uncertain of her decision not to terminate one of the pregnancies. “I have to reduce. I’m scared. I don’t want to suffer,” she told the New York Post in November. 

Cook has retained the legal services of Harold Cassidy, who represented a surrogate mother in the groundbreaking Baby M case in New Jersey. In the 1987 case, Cassidy successfully proved to the court that the surrogacy contract was invalid and that the surrogate mother was legally the parent of the child, the New York Times reported.

“The surrogacy contract in this case and the California Surrogacy Enabling Statute will not withstand constitutional scrutiny,” Cassidy told the New York Post of his new case.

“The notion that a man can demand that a mother terminate the life of one of the children she carries by an abortion, and then claim that she is liable for money damages when she refuses, is cruel to the mother.”

Cook agrees: “They are human beings. I bonded with these kids. This is just not right.”

Sources: The Daily Beast, New York Post (2), The New York Times / Photo credit: via New York Post