Document Type



William & Mary Journal of Women and the Law




This article connects the constitutional jurisprudence of the family to debates over reproductive technology and surrogacy. Despite the outpouring of literature on reproductive technologies, courts and scholars have paid little attention to the constitutional foundation of parental rights. Focusing on the structural/political function of parental rights, this article argues that a gestational mother has a constitutional claim to be recognized as a legal parent.

The article first discusses the "unwed father cases." Despite believing that natural sex differences justified distinctions in parental rights, the Supreme Court crafted a test giving men parental rights if they established relationships with their biological children. The article argues that the Court modeled this test on its view of the essential attributes of motherhood. The article also shows how this theoretical approach supports feminist claims for equal treatment despite biological difference, such as accommodation of pregnancy.

Turning to current debates, the article focuses on divided motherhood: usually surrogacy contracts, but also embryo mix-ups at fertility clinics. Rather than following existing precedent on parental rights, the law of high-tech parenthood is tending sharply in the direction of denigrating gestation, defining parenthood exclusively in terms of genes or contracts. Conferring parental rights on gestational mothers would produce better outcomes and be more consistent with the best aspects of existing constitutional precedents.