Surrogacy Ruling Puts Issue In Hands of State Legislators, Experts Say With AM-Surrogate Mom, Bjt

NEWARK, N.J. (AP) _ The New Jersey Supreme Court's landmark Baby M decision was hailed Wednesday by opponents of surrogate parenting, but surrogacy centers said they would not be put out of business, at least outside New Jersey.

Court observers and an attorney in the case, meanwhile, said the issue now must be considered by lawmakers, as the court's ruling suggests.

The state's highest court threw out the $10,000 surrogate contract, saying hiring a surrogate mother is tantamount to baby selling.

However, the high court refused to return custody of the girl known in court papers as Baby M to her mother, Mary Beth Whitehead-Gould. A lower-court judge had awarded custody to the father, William Stern.

Wednesday's ruling left it up to a lower court to set the terms under which Mrs. Whitehead may visit her daughter. Both sides said they will not appeal, although Stern said through an attorney he would fight visitation by Mrs. Whitehead-Gould.

Lori Andrews, a researcher with the American Bar Foundation, said the ruling shows that current state statutes don't apply to surrogacy. She said the decision will pressure state lawmakers nationwide to pass legislation regulating the issue.

''It puts the burdens back to the legislatures,'' she said. ''In the meantime, it continues to leave hundreds of people participating in these arrangements in a legal vacuum.''

Gary Skoloff, an attorney for Stern, said the decision tells the New Jersey Legislature, ''Now it's your job.''

Jeremy Rifkin, a spokesman for the National Coalition Against Surrogacy, said the court has ''effectively dealt a death blow to commercialized surrogacy arrangements in the United States.''

''The court has acknowledged that women's bodies and wombs cannot be commercially rented or leased for nine months,'' he said.

John Puthenveetil, executive director of the Catholic League for Religious and Civic Rights, also praised the ruling, saying it is ''truly a dramatic victory for the dignity of all human beings.''

Operators of surrogacy centers said that the ruling will not affect business significantly outside New Jersey.

''Unless surrogacy is banned nationwide, there may always be an avenue to do surrogate parenting,'' said Noel Keane, a Dearborn, Mich., attorney who operates the Infertility Center of New York, which arranged the surrogate contract in the Baby M case.

''If this was a U.S. Supreme Court decision, I would say it's a definite loss,'' Keane said. ''Other than that, it has done nothing immediate.''

Steven C. Litz, director of Surrogate Mothers Inc. in Indiana, said, ''It may settle it as far as New Jersey is concerned.''

Bill Handel, executive director of the Center for Surrogate Parenting in Beverly Hills, Calif., said, ''The decision stopped surrogacy from happening in New Jersey, but it never occurred in New Jersey in the first place.

He said the ''climate in California is much different.''

''Surrogacy, at worst, has been looked at here with benign neglect,'' he said.