The media is buzzing with news that Ian Thorpe and his partner Ryan Channing, are planning to have a baby via surrogacy. Channing was quoted as saying that the couple were pursuing surrogacy in the US because ‘the laws in Australia are difficult for same sex males in regards to surrogacy.’
Whilst famous people having babies makes for good headlines, no one has checked whether what Channing said is true. For those of us who have carried a baby for a gay couple, his comments were a bit surprising. Gay couples considering surrogacy would be forgiven for assuming that surrogacy is difficult or impossible in Australia, and may head overseas without considering domestic options, or the ramifications of pursuing surrogacy overseas.
So, a fact check for a start – is surrogacy difficult for same sex couples in Australia? The truth is that surrogacy is challenging for everyone in Australia – same sex and opposite sex couples. The laws in almost all States apply the same to everyone, regardless of sexuality or marital status. Heterosexual couples face the same hurdles as same sex couples due to prohibitions on advertising for a surrogate, and the availability of surrogates, as well as restrictions on Medicare rebates. The one difference is Western Australia – WA surrogacy laws provide that only heterosexual, married couples can pursue surrogacy. That excludes same sex couples and singles. At the moment, the WA laws are under review and one criticism of the current law is that it prohibits same sex couples from accessing surrogacy. This pushes all West Australian same sex male couples to pursue surrogacy overseas. Does this apply to Thorpe and Channing? Well, Channing is from Perth, although it is reported that the couple live in Sydney.
So is it difficult to pursue surrogacy in Australia? Well, that depends on your perception and expectations. Surrogacy in Australia is based on relationships, rather than a transaction. And because it is relational, it can take a lot of time and commitment. There aren’t many women in Australia willing to be surrogates, and it is not normalised here as it might be in some other countries. There is no payment or reward for carrying a baby for someone else – the only reward is seeing them become parents. And as such, it can be quicker to pursue surrogacy overseas. There are enormous benefits for those that are able to pursue surrogacy within Australia, but the statistics are clear – only 50-60 babies are born via surrogacy in Australia every year, compared to almost 300 born overseas to Australians. But that doesn’t make it impossible – and certainly for those who are able to enter into a surrogacy arrangement within Australia, it’s very much worth the time and effort.
So how does surrogacy work in Australia?
Surrogacy in Australia is governed by State legislation, and each State has slightly different laws. All surrogacy in Australia must be altruistic; commercial surrogacy is illegal. This means the surrogate cannot receive payment or a reward in exchange for having a baby; she can however have her surrogacy-related expenses covered.
Some States take it a step further, criminalising commercial surrogacy overseas – NSW and Queensland laws provide that residents from those States must not pursue commercial surrogacy overseas.
There are also prohibitions on advertising for a surrogate in most States, which can be challenging for anyone to find a surrogate. There are options to find a surrogate, including social media and Surrogacy Australia’s Support Service. It is worth reading, researching and understanding the laws and the processes within Australia before considering overseas options.
Same sex male couples face the challenge of needing an egg donor, as well as a surrogate. Egg donation, like surrogacy, is altruistic in Australia, and most often egg donors are found either in family or friends, or via online forums such as Egg Donation Australia.
If you’re an aspiring dad and wondering about how it all works, what options are available to you and how to get started, you might be interested in downloading The Handbook. You’ll find some great support at the Gay Intended Dads Facebook Group. And you can book a consult with Sarah at the link below, when you’re ready to take the next step.