Bangkok acts to outlaw 'wombs for hire'

BANGKOK - Thailand's military government gave preliminary approval yesterday for a draft law to make commercial surrogacy a criminal offence, following a spate of dramatic surrogacy scandals in the past two weeks.

The case of an Australian couple accused of abandoning their Down syndrome son with his Thai surrogate mother unleashed an international outcry over the "wombs for hire" business that rights groups said preyed on poor and vulnerable women in countries such as India and Thailand.

"The NCPO (National Council for Peace and Order) has approved a surrogacy draft law," Pattamaporn Rattanadilok na Phuket, a spokesman for the military government, told reporters yesterday.

"We will punish through criminal law those who practise and are involved in commercial surrogacy," the spokesman added.

"Those who hire surrogate mothers or make this a commercial business will be violating criminal law."

The law is awaiting final approval from the National Legislative Assembly and would then have to be formally endorsed by Thailand's King Bhumibol Adulyadej.

It is unclear how long final approval will take.

David and Wendy Farnell, the Australian couple at the centre of the saga involving "Baby Gammy" , now seven months old, told Australian television that they wanted to keep both babies, but had to leave Thailand with only Gammy's healthy twin sister after the Thai surrogate mother threatened to involve the police.

Rights activists say the law could create uncertainty for foreign couples who now have pregnant surrogate mothers in the country.