A brief history of U.S. Surrogacy

Surrogacy has a long history tracing back to biblical times in the book of Genesis. It was also part of Native American history. If a woman were infertile, her husband would be encouraged to conceive a child with another woman so his family line would continue to grow. However, surrogacy practices today are far different than they have been historically. Various scientific advances and a growing social acceptance have shaped surrogacy in the United States as we know it today.

Before health advances, surrogates needed to become pregnant through extramarital sexual relationships and they weren’t legally or financially protected. Understandably, this made surrogacy controversial. In 1884, the first successful artificial insemination was completed in Philadelphia. This procedure was unethically done without the woman’s consent, but it opened up the door for willing people to try artificial insemination.


In vitro fertilization (IVF) occurs when an egg joins with sperm outside the body. In 1975, the first ethical IVF embryo transfer was successfully completed.

The first legal surrogacy agreement was brokered in 1976. The woman was artificially inseminated and accepted no monetary compensation.


The first baby to be created through an in vitro fertilization transfer was born. She is sometimes referred to as the first “test-tube baby.” This event occurred in London and paved the way for future gestational surrogacies worldwide.

A traditional surrogate (impregnated through artificial insemination) and intended parents organized the first compensated surrogacy agreement. The surrogate received ten thousand dollars, but felt emotionally unprepared for surrogacy.


The famous “Baby M” case (the “M” standing for the baby’s name, Melissa), which resulted in a two-year legal battle, took place between 1984 and 1986. The artificially inseminated surrogate was paid ten thousand dollars, but then refused to sign over parental rights after the baby’s birth. As this was a traditional surrogacy, the surrogate was the biological mother. The New Jersey Supreme Court eventually gave the father custody, but the surrogate was entitled to visitation rights. The ruling increased the strictness of surrogacy laws for traditional surrogacy.

The first successful gestational surrogacy occurred. With gestational surrogacy, the surrogate isn’t biologically related to the child. Instead, the intended parents’ eggs and sperm are combined through IVF and transferred into the surrogate. Gestational surrogacy became more popular as traditional surrogacy faced more restrictions. In response to the “Baby M” case, around this time surrogacy professionals became more skilled at protecting intended parents rights through pre-birth or post-birth parentage orders.


In the United States today, there are no federal laws regarding surrogacy. Different states have varying surrogacy laws. The majority of surrogacy relationships involve gestational surrogacy, the surrogate being fairly compensated, and legal contracts establishing parental rights. Many people work with surrogacy agencies to ensure every step of the process is done efficiently by a knowledgeable team. For single men and gay couples, surrogacy is sometimes their only chance to have a biological child. To learn more about surrogacy laws and procedures, contact a surrogacy attorney or surrogacy agency. 

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