France accepts EU rights ruling on children born to surrogates

A photo taken on July 2, 2009, shows Sylvie and Dominique Mennesson, parents of twins born in 2000 from a surrogate mother from California, as they pose with their daughters at their home in Maison Alfort, France. They turned to the European Cou
A photo taken on July 2, 2009, shows Sylvie and Dominique Mennesson, parents of twins born in 2000 from a surrogate mother from California, as they pose with their daughters at their home in Maison Alfort, France. They turned to the European Court of Human Rights in 2011 after a French court rejected their bid to have the children registered as their own. -- PHOTO: AFP

PARIS (AFP) - France said on Friday it would not dispute a ruling by Europe's top rights court forcing it to legally recognise children born to surrogates, a practice that is illegal in the country.

Authorities in France had refused to register three children born to surrogates in the United States as the couples' legal offspring, a crucial move as it would secure them nationality and full inheritance rights.

But the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) ruled on Thursday that this denial by French authorities ran contrary to the European Convention of Human Rights.

"It's a decision that we will not dispute... The government will take into account these two judgments in its domestic law," Family Minister Laurence Rossignol told Parliament.

Couples Dominique and Sylvie Mennesson and Francis and Monique Labassee turned to the ECHR in 2011 after a French court rejected their bid to have the children registered as their own.

In both cases, the couples had gone to the United States for surrogacy, the practice of making an arrangement for a woman to carry a pregnancy for intended parents.

Twin girls were born to the Mennessons in 2000, while a girl was born to the Labassees a year later.

Ms Rossignol said the ECHR decision did not call into question France's ban on surrogacy, but wanted the "interests of the children" to override the parents' choice of conception.

"Several penal provisions allow for the prosecution of those who resort to surrogacy abroad," she said.

But "the government has always resolutely defended the idea that... the primacy of the interests of the child must prevail over the choices made by their parents".

The issue of surrogacy came to the fore last year as it played a big part in opposition to a gay marriage law that came into force in May 2013.

Many critics were worried that the law - which also authorised gay couples to adopt - would eventually lead to the legalisation of medically assisted conception for lesbian couples and surrogacy.

Research has shown that French people are gradually opening up to the idea of legalising medically assisted conception for lesbians but are still broadly against surrogacy.