A proposed legal ban on the use of surrogate mothers has been scrapped after lawmakers raised objections over the effectiveness of such a move, it was announced on Sunday.
Officials had initially included the ban in a draft amendment to the nation's Law on Population and Family Planning. Yet after a routine review, the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress, the top legislature, removed the provision before approving the final draft on Sunday.
Other amendments in the approved draft include allowing couples to have two children and extending maternity leave for mothers who abide by the law. The revised law comes into effect on Friday.
"Some members of the standing committee argued that surrogacy cannot be totally forbidden," Zhang Chunsheng, head of legal affairs for the National Health and Family Planning Commission, said at a news conference on Sunday to explain why the proposed ban had been dropped. Even with a law in place, "rich people would still be able to go abroad to countries where surrogacy is allowed", he said.
The commission already has regulations forbidding the use of surrogate mothers. However, it called for the ban to be written into law to enhance enforcement in tackling those who still offer such services.
Despite the regulations issued in 2001 by the Ministry of Health, now part of the commission, the practice has survived underground in many parts of China.
In April, the government launched a campaign to crack down on medical clinics that provide surrogacy services, but little progress was made due to a lack of legislation and enforcement at the grassroots level, the commission said.
Zhang said those who offer surrogacy services can make huge profits and that a ban would have ensured "the healthy operation of the healthcare sector".
Wang Mingwen, a law professor at Xichang College in Sichuan province, was quoted by Guangming Daily as saying that surrogacy is in demand in China due to rising infertility rates. He said he was against an outright ban and instead urged authorities to introduce detailed rules for assisted reproduction.
However, Li Huijuan, a lawyer with Zhonglun W & D Law Firm in Beijing, said, "Removing the ban (from the final draft) could give room for the practice, and cases of surrogacy may increase sharply." Allowing unregulated surrogacy to continue is detrimental to the protection of women's rights, she said.