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Surrogate Mother Vows to Appeal Custody Ruling

April 03, 1987|From Times Wire Services

RED BANK, N.J. — Surrogate mother Mary Beth Whitehead, in her first public comments since the landmark Baby M ruling, said Thursday the judge who stripped her of the right to see her daughter can never sever their bond of love.

"She is my flesh. She is my blood. No judge . . . is going to take that away from us," Whitehead said at a news conference. "There will never be a termination of the love I have for Sara, nor will there ever be a termination to the need Sara has for her real mother."

Whitehead, 29, accompanied by her husband, Richard, vowed to appeal Tuesday's decision by Judge Harvey R. Sorkow that rejected her attempts to reclaim the year-old girl.

"Until Sara comes home, my fight will continue," she said. "We will not accept the decision of one judge as the final determination of a whole society that we should be permanently separated."

Calls Practice 'Unnatural'

Whitehead, who said she will keep the child's crib set up, added: "I believe that there is something so wrong and so harmfully unnatural about the surrogate practice that our New Jersey appellate courts will return Sara to me."

Whitehead named the child "Sara," but since the ruling the baby has been Melissa Elizabeth Stern in the eyes of the law. The biological father, William Stern, won custody and Sorkow, minutes after reading his 121-page decision, allowed Stern's wife, Elizabeth, to adopt the child.

The case, which brought worldwide attention to surrogate contracts, was sparked by Whitehead's refusal to honor the $10,000 contract under which she was artificially inseminated with Stern's sperm. Whitehead refused to accept the money after the birth, but Sorkow's ruling ordered Stern to pay the fee.

Whitehead's attorney, Harold J. Cassidy, said the appeal, probably to the New Jersey Supreme Court, will cite at least 15 grounds for reversal.

Plan of Action

Cassidy said he first must block Sorkow's ruling and halt the adoption, the change of name and the termination of Whitehead's parental and visitation rights to the baby. A hearing was set for today.

Sorkow's ruling said surrogate motherhood does not exploit women, and that adoption has a stronger potential for abuse because of the risk of pressure to give up the child.

The judge also said the practice is not immoral and does not amount to baby selling because the father cannot buy "what is already his."

Sorkow said Whitehead "knew just what she was bargaining for" when she entered the February, 1985, surrogate contract.

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