surrogate mother, a woman who agrees, usually by contract and for a fee, to bear a child for a couple who are childless because the wife is infertile or physically incapable of carrying a developing fetus. Often the surrogate mother is the biological mother of the child, conceiving it by means of artificial insemination with sperm from the husband. In gestational surrogacy, the wife is fertile but incapable of carrying a growing fetus; the child is conceived by in vitro fertilization using the wife's eggs and her husband's sperm, and the resulting embryo is implanted in the surrogate mother's uterus.
Surrogate motherhood has raised complex ethical and legal issues, and lawsuits over custody after the child's birth have resulted from both types of surrogacy. In the highly publicized Baby M case (1986–88), Mary Beth Whitehead, the surrogate (and biological) mother, sued William and Elizabeth Stern, the baby's father and his wife, for custody of the child. Although the surrogate mother was not awarded custody in the Baby M case, she was granted visitation rights. Several European countries and a number of states have passed laws banning paid surrogacy.