The French prohibition of surrogate motherhood, resting on moral and ethical considerations, raises complex issues of private international law.
Surrogate motherhood has been prohibited in France since 1991, under a decision by the Cour de cassation (France’s highest court), (Cass. Ass. plén., 31/05/1991). This prohibition was confirmed in the bioethics law of 1994, and is codified in article 16-7 of French Civil Code (“Civil Code”). Article 16-9 of the Civil Code makes this a prohibition of public order (In France, prohibitions of ordre public or public order are mandatory rules created unilaterally by the state to protect fundamental values of the society, and from which parties have no freedom to derogate. A foreign law applicable under a conflict of laws analysis would be evicted if contrary to a mandatory rule). A surrogacy contract is null and void, and violations are punished by civil and criminal sanctions (civil sanctions are described in articles 311-25, 325 and 332-1 of the Civil Code and criminal sanctions at articles 227-12 §3 and 227-13 of the Penal Code).
The prohibition is justified by different moral and ethical concerns: to prevent children from becoming commodities traded as merchandise between infertile couples and surrogate mothers; to protect the interest of children who are psychologically at risk in such transaction; and to prevent the exploitation of surrogate mothers who must relinquish parental rights to the child after giving birth. Surrogate mothers are usually from lower economic strata and are economically exploited in this transaction. Statistically there is an inherent social division in this practice. This is evinced by the fact that most surrogacy contracts require compensation because very few women would bear someone else’s child for free. This social division is not new – surrogate mothers were slaves in the days of the Bible and Ancient Rome.