The Lok Sabha, India's lower house, has passed a bill that bans commercial surrogacy.
The Surrogacy (Regulation) Bill 2016 aims to prevent the exploitation of women, in a country that previously had a thriving commercial surrogacy industry. India was a popular fertility tourism destination, leading to concerns that wealthy couples were taking advantage of women of low socioeconomic status, who would act as surrogates.
'There was massive exploitation which forced the regulation, but there is scope to improve the legislation further,' Nirmala Samant Prabhawalkar, a former member of the National Commission for Women, told the Times of India.
Surrogacy is only available to couples who have been legally married for a minimum of five years and are aged 26-55 for males and 23-50 for females. Single people, same-sex couples and unmarried cohabiting couples are excluded, as are couples who are already parents (biologically or through adoption) unless their child is mentally or physically disabled or suffers from a life-threatening disorder with no permanent cure. Surrogacy is restricted to resident Indian citizens.
The bill stipulates that the surrogate must be a close relative of one of the intended parents, she must be between 25-35 years old, married (or previously married) and have at least one child of her own. If donor eggs are used, the surrogate cannot also be the egg donor.
The bill permits altruistic surrogacy only: the surrogate may not receive any payment under the new legislation, and expenses are strictly limited to medical costs. The intended parents are obliged to buy medical insurance for the surrogate, covering the pregnancy and any postpartum complications.
Further provisions in the bill establish a regulatory framework: all surrogacy clinics must be registered, and national and state surrogacy boards will be established to regulate them. Although surrogates cannot be paid, the new law does not prevent clinics or medical professionals from profiting from surrogacy.
The bill has received some criticism. 'I think it is a little extreme to ban it completely, we would have liked to have seen better regulation. That way at least it would have remained in the open,' Dr Ranjana Kumari of the Centre for Social Research, a women's rights group based in Delhi told The Telegraph. 'Given the social relations in some Indian societies, there is also a worry that due to power dynamics some females could be coerced into such situations.'