Sara and Anna
Sara and Anna experienced the effects of Rhode Island’s outdated parentage law firsthand when they had their child. Their son Eli was conceived using assisted reproduction. “It took my partner and I two and a half years to become pregnant, I signed more consent forms than I can count,” Sara says. “My doctors wouldn’t perform any procedure without the written consent of both my partner and myself.”
Because they were unmarried, Sara, as the non-birth parent, had no presumed legal parental connection to Eli at birth, and no route to establish her parentage. “We were over the moon when we realized we would finally become parents. I opened up a college savings account for Eli while he was still in utero. In this respect I was like any excessively type A first-time parent, but I later learned that the consent forms that I had signed only protected my right to the embryos my partner and I had created. They didn’t protect my connection to our child. When our son was born, I realized I had no parental tie – not one.”
This was when Sara and Anna realized how differently the law treats some couples. “I was not his birth parent and I had no way to secure a legal tie to Eli before we left the hospital. My partner and I took the exact same steps as our straight infertile friends in conceiving, but we were denied the ability to put both of our names on the birth certificate just on the basis of our sex alone.”
It took eight months for Sara to adopt her own son – an excruciatingly long time to be in legal limbo when it comes to the ability to legally protect your child. What’s more, during all those months, Sara and Anna were subjected to the lengthy, invasive, and at times arbitrary steps of the adoption process, including putting an ad in the paper to notify the anonymous sperm donor of the pending adoption, in case he wanted to challenge the termination of his “parental rights.”
The Rhode Island Uniform Parentage Act (RIUPA), based on model best practice parentage legislation, would update Rhode Island laws’ recognition of family to reflect present-day reality and to ensure equal and accessible paths to establishing parentage. This includes ensuring that same-gender parents using assisted reproduction have equal access to parentage through the Voluntary Acknowledgement of Parentage process, which enables parents to secure their legal relationships to their children immediately at birth and without going to court. The reforms in the RIUPA simply create equal and fair access for all children to secure parent-child relationships.
Sara keenly feels the unfairness of how unequally her family was treated during the whole ordeal. “I am my son’s parent. I have been since conception… I went to every single prenatal appointment. I was present for every minute of his 29-hour labor and delivery [and the time since] snuggling, feeding, changing, burping, and loving on him.” Eli, now three years old, loves books, peanut butter sandwiches, and stacking blocks, mainly because he gets to knock them down like baby Godzilla. “I could not be more proud of him,” Sara adds, “and I hope one day he’ll be equally as proud of me.”