Irish families struggle to travel to Ukraine for birth of babies via surrogacy

Department of Foreign Affairs is praised for its support for Irish parents

Ukraine,  a popular location with Irish couples for surrogacy, closed its borders on March 15th. Photograph: Getty Images

Ukraine, a popular location with Irish couples for surrogacy, closed its borders on March 15th. Photograph: Getty Images

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Irish families due to travel to Ukraine in the coming days for the birth of their child via surrogacy are unable to secure permission to enter because of border restrictions, an Irish lawyer has said.

Two couples, whose babies are due in the next fortnight, have been unable to confirm travel plans, said Tracy Horan, a solicitor specialising in surrogacy and fertility law.

Praising the role played by the Department of Foreign Affairs to help the couples, Ms Horan said the Ukraine’s strict border controls have made travel very complicated.

“This is a global problem; it’s not just in the Ukraine. I had a client stuck for two months in Canada because all the flights out were being cancelled. The stress on parents is horrendous. To think that your baby is being born, you can’t see or hold the child, it’s really challenging.”

Ukraine, which is a popular location among Irish couples for surrogacy, closed its borders on March 15th. It is due to to re-examine restrictions on May 22nd, but a ban on foreign air travel is unlikely to be lifted quickly.

On Friday, the BBC reported that at least 35 babies born to surrogate mothers were being cared for by nurses in a Kiev hotel because parents could not enter the country to collect them.

Some of the solicitor’s clients flew to Ukraine before the lockdown to collect their child but have been unable to return to Ireland. The Department of Foreign Affairs is now advising surrogate parents to plan trips carefully.

Annette Hickey, a family law solicitor who also specialises in surrogacy and fertility, had better luck securing passage for her clients, and says “less than 10” Irish couples she is working with are currently in Ukraine awaiting the birth of their child via surrogacy or caring for their newborn.

She said none of the babies who appeared in the BBC report had Irish parents. “We want to reassure couples in Ireland that the article was about a particular clinic, and children with parents from other countries. It’s absolutely awful and horrifically upsetting, but, thankfully, we are not in that situation.”

Support

Ms Hickey said the Department of Foreign Affairs and the National Infertility Support and Information Group had provided “tremendous support” in helping parents to get to Ukraine for the birth of their child, and she expected more families to travel out in the coming weeks.

“It wasn’t straightforward, it was a process. But we worked with some extremely good Ukrainian lawyers, and once we met the requirements of the Ukrainian authorities they were very accommodating.”

Ms Hickey does not expect the Covid-19 pandemic will negatively impact on the demand for overseas surrogacy services. “I think it’s actually spurred more couples on to say this is something we want to pursue. Couples are saying once the travel ban is lifted we’ll do this.”

There is currently no Irish legislation around assisted human reproduction, and under Irish law the surrogate mother is considered the legal mother of the child. The Government has approved the drafting of a Bill on assisted human reproduction, which is scheduled to be passed in 2021.