Surrogacy: A Brief History

Surrogacy has a long history tracing back to biblical times in the book of Genesis. Native American history speaks of this process also. If a woman were infertile, her husband conceived a child with another woman. Therefore, his family line would continue to grow. However, our 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.

1884 – The Old Roots of Surrogacy

Before health advances, surrogates became pregnant through extramarital sexual relationships. These weren’t legally or financially protected. Understandably, this made them controversial. In 1884, the first successful artificial insemination occurred in Philadelphia. This procedure occurred without the woman’s consent. However, 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.

1976 – A Surrogacy Agreement is Born!

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


The first baby created through an in vitro fertilization transfer was born, 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 agreement. The surrogate received ten thousand dollars. However, she felt emotionally unprepared for the process.

1984-1986: The Infamous Surrogacy Legal Battle

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

The first successful gestational surrogacy occurred. With this type, the surrogate has no biological relation to the child. Instead, the intended parents’ eggs and sperm combine through IVF and are transferred into the surrogate. This process became more popular as traditional surrogacy faced more restrictions. This was in large part due to the “Baby M” case. Therefore, around this time professionals in the field became more skilled at protecting intended parents rights through pre-birth or post-birth parentage orders.


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

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