Who’s Telling the Truth About California’s ‘Sperm Donor’ Bill?

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Color me confused.

California Bill SB 115 is currently making its way through state channels. It breezed through the Senate and went before the Assembly Judiciary Committee yesterday but is now on hold after the committee voted to table it for further discussion.

Those are the easy facts.

What’s not so clear is what the bill will do, and whether it’s good or bad legislation. The answer depends entirely on who you ask.

First, some background. You may have heard about actor Jason Patric and his fight to gain custody of a child he conceived through artificial insemination with an ex-girlfriend. At the time, he allegedly said he wasn’t interested in being a father but later decided he did want to spend time with the boy. Patric even lived with his son for a time. But now, the relationship between Patric and his ex has turned acrimonious and she has denied him access to the child, claiming he was only a sperm donor and therefore has no rights to parental status under the law.

She is correct that sperm donors don’t have parental status under current laws. And here’s where Bill SB 115 comes into play. It’s a bill that Patric has put together and is trying to pass so he can legally sue for joint custody.

According to Fred Silberberg, Patric’s lawyer, the bill updates an outdated law to protect the rights of a very small slice of society, those of men who “provide sperm to an unmarried partner” and father the resulting children:

The bill is intended to allow a limited class of fathers, those who have brought the children into their homes, and held the children out as their own, to obtain parentage rights to those children.

Silberberg goes on to say that “alarmists” have no need to worry:

Before alarmists contend that this bill might infringe upon the rights of women who choose to have children as single parents, or the rights of lesbian couples who need donated sperm in order to establish a family, there is one thing that needs to be kept in mind. This bill does not throw open the doors to litigation by any and all sperm donors. It specifically addresses only those men who have a relationship with the child.

Another lawyer takes much the same view. Carol Chodroff says:

Senate Bill 115 gives no rights to a sperm donor who waived his parental rights and never acted as a parent to the child; nor does it render a sperm donor vulnerable to a paternity suit. Written waivers relinquishing parental rights remain valid and legally enforceable under this legislation, as they should.

Equality California and the National Center for Lesbian Rights also support the bill.

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So why are California Cryobank, the California National Organization for Women, Planned Parenthood and the Academy of California Adoption Lawyers lined up against it?

According to a press release from California Cryobank, SB 115 “would grant any sperm donor (although not egg donors or surrogates) the right to sue for custody regardless of the mother’s intent, regardless of any signed agreement between the recipient and donor, and regardless of the donor’s lack of any financial or legal obligations to the child.”

In a blistering blog post, the California NOW denounced the bill as a form of male social dominance:

SB 115 is a one-way right written solely for the benefit of the sperm donor, who at any point can sue for custody. There is no provision to exclude that right if a written waiver is signed at the time of donation.

Those are very different stories than what Fred Silberberg and Carol Chodroff tell. So who’s right?

Is SB 115 a bill with extremely limited application that will help Jason Patric and others in his unusual situation gain custody of their kids? Or is it a bill that opens the door to all sorts of nightmare legal battles over children conceived through sperm donation?

You can read a copy of the bill here. What’s your take?

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