Interviews & Profiles

Democrats’ generational divide on gestational surrogacy

Melissa DeRosa says some older lawmakers just don’t get the young people.

Secretary to the Governor Melissa DeRosa and Governor Cuomo at a 2019 press conference in the Capitol.

Secretary to the Governor Melissa DeRosa and Governor Cuomo at a 2019 press conference in the Capitol. Office of Governor Andrew M. Cuomo

Secretary to the Governor Melissa DeRosa has been the go-to person for Gov. Andrew Cuomo on a number of issues, including a proposal in his budget this year that would legalize paid gestational surrogacy.

The proposal has divided progressive lawmakers. Some say that it is a matter of basic fairness and civil rights for couples who could otherwise not have children. But some older lawmakers in the state Senate and Assembly say they are worried that legalizing gestational surrogacy, which is legal in nearly every other state, would result in the exploitation of low-income women. These opponents blocked the bill from passing last year. 

The Cuomo administration hopes to get the proposal over the finish line by including it in the governor’s proposed budget, which also includes other provisions for reproductive health. City & State caught up with Secretary to the Governor Melissa DeRosa, who chairs the New York State Council on Women and Girls, for the latest on policymaking on fertility and reproductive health in budget negotiations. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

What’s the latest with maternity, maternal mortality, and IVF?

Medically necessary egg freezing went into effect on Jan. 1, but a lot of people don't know about it. We’re putting money behind an education campaign and also trying to explore other ways to expand the mandate.

For maternal mortality, we put $8 million into the budget. We're implementing implicit bias training and post-birth training for medical providers, creating a comprehensive prenatal data warehouse to increase timely access to maternal health data and convening a maternal mortality review board that reviews all of the maternal deaths to identify patterns in a more holistic way. We're also doing a recruitment program in communities of color. When you are treating somebody who is like you, you're more sensitive to their unique health care needs. 

What about gestational surrogacy?

Gestational surrogacy was a big priority of ours last year and continues to be this year. By jump-starting the campaign earlier, taking the time to properly educate legislators, and humanizing the issue, the likelihood of success is much higher. 

State Sen. Liz Krueger has expressed skepticism about the governor’s proposal and has proposed her own bill. What do you make of it?

I have not reviewed it yet. I have heard from a number of the different advocates, both in the women's groups and in the LGBT groups, saying that there were provisions in it that they absolutely could not support.Their words, not mine. We will review it and hear all sides. The proposal that we put forward was really drafted with the people in mind who have lived through gestational surrogacy, who have had to leave the state because of our antiquated, outdated, completely backward laws.

How do generational differences play into your approach to issues like surrogacy?

When I became secretary to the governor, I was 34 years old, I took a tremendous amount of shit from the press for who my father was, who my husband was. When you feel like you've earned a position because of your hard work and because you don't sleep and because you've jumped higher and run faster (and people say things like that), you feel undermined and you feel like people are saying I don't deserve this. 

This is before AOC. This was before Andrea Stewart-Cousins became Senate majority leader. This was before Tish James became attorney general. At that point, I was really one of the most senior women – unelected of course – in the state, and I made the decision that I was going to take on the issues that affect women in my age range head on. And one of the first things that I did after becoming secretary was I went to the doctor and explored embryo and egg freezing because it was something my husband and I talked about. At that point, we were like: “We're not doing this now. When are we going to do it?” We need to consider the fact that time is a very real thing when you're talking about the ability to have children.

I am now 37 and I have to take full advantage of the position that I am in. Surrogacy is something that affects women of a certain age and so it's something that is incredibly important to me on a personal level. It's incredibly important to all of my friends. It's incredibly important to women across the state, who are not elected to the Senate or the Assembly. Until very recently, decisions were being made for them by old white men or older white women who are completely out of touch with this generation.