Lesbian Pregnancy: Finding the Right Sperm Donor

So, you’re ready to be moms. Congratulations! Reproductive science has come a long way in a short time. And lesbian pregnancy has not been left behind. The journey starts with sperm donation.

Choosing a sperm donor can be daunting. There are two types of donors: anonymous donors or donors  you know.

Here’s a look at the pros and cons of both processes, plus an introduction to the laws that govern paternity. The more you know before you begin building your family, the more protected you’ll be.

1: Choosing a sperm donor you know
Working with a donor you know typically costs less than working with an anonymous donor, because the sperm doesn’t need to be purchased. Plus it’s possible to obtain a fresh, rather than a frozen, sample. But, fresh sperm comes with a big risk. It isn’t required to undergo two infectious disease testings over a 6 month period for conditions like HIV. All sperm anonymously donated to a sperm bank is legally required to undergo this health testing.

Many women considering lesbian pregnancy options want a personal connection to the donor, particularly if they hope for their child(ren) to have a life-long relationship with the donor. If you do choose this route it’s critical to understand the laws about donor insemination in your home state, as your number one priority should be clarity regarding paternity laws.

Donor insemination laws vary from state to state and often change. Some states forfeit donors’ parental rights if the sperm is given to a doctor and not the recipient directly. But, many laws only apply to married women, and so, a donation to a lesbian couple’s pregnancy (or a single woman) may not come with the same guaranteed rights as a donation to a married heterosexual couple.

Additionally, in some states, if the donor is involved in the child’s life, the paternity laws that are in place to protect you and your child’s legal rights may be nullified because of the donor’s  relationship with the child.

The risks don’t end there. In several states, your donor contract may be thrown out if it’s challenged in court. This can create a variety of jeopardous situations for everyone involved, including the donor who may worry about being required by the court system to provide financial support – whether or not he’s an involved parent.

In order to protect all parties, and in particular, any children born to you, it’s imperative you work with an attorney who understands the nuances of the law in your state and who can ensure that any potential risks surrounding the custody of your child(ren) have been addressed and reduced.

If you live in a state that permits second parent or co-parent adoptions, this additional legal step should be taken. The goal here it to be sure that both moms are considered to be the legal parents of the child(ren) in the eyes of the law.

Mapping out potential scenarios now can save pain later. Either or both moms could die before the child(ren), financial issues may arise and partner can separate. Discussing these scenarios with your partner and non-anonymous donor will make this choice more tangible, realistic and safe for all involved.

2: Choosing an anonymous sperm donor
Buying anonymous donor sperm from a sperm bank is the safest route that lesbian couples considering pregnancy can take concerning potential parental rights issues. Why? Because the law doesn’t grant anonymous donors any legal right to the children born using their sperm.

Anonymous donors come in many different forms. Some leave no identifying information. Others may choose to participate in an “identity release” program offered by some sperm banks. This means the donor permits the sperm bank to release his information at the request of adult offspring once he or she turns 18.

Several registries exist that enable donors and offspring to search for each other as well as their half-siblings. So, anonymity is never guaranteed. The use of increasingly sophisticated Internet tools as well as widespread access to DNA testing have opened up new avenues for those wishing to know more about their origins or siblings.

Guidelines to keep in mind when working with a sperm bank

  • Cryopreserved donor sperm can be released for insemination only after quarantine of at least 180 days, and repeat negative testing of the donor for all STI’s (sexually transmitted diseases) including HIV.
  • The sperm bank must be licensed by the Board of Health.
  • The sperm bank must obtain and present a thorough physical examination of the donor and screen out potential donors who are at increased risk for STI’s.
  • The sperm bank must screen for heritable diseases, such as cystic fibrosis.
  • In order to limit the number of half siblings that come from any one donor, strongly consider working with a sperm bank that controls that number of live births obtained from each donor.

Some interesting facts about sperm donation

In the U.S. there are no federal laws that govern sperm donation, but there are FDA regulations that impact the process. The American Society for Reproductive Medicine (ASRM) and other professional organizations do, however, provide comprehensive guidelines.

ASRM limits a donor to 25 live births per population of 850,000, although this is not typically enforced by law and there is no central tracking mechanism currently in place. (It has been estimated that about 40 percent of live births through sperm donation are actually reported.)

Based on these assumptions, it is likely that some sperm donors may have over 100 genetic children.

On the whole, the outlook for babies conceived with anonymously donated sperm is sunny. Studies have shown that children conceived through sperm donation have a birth defect rate of less than one fifth, as compared with the general population, perhaps because of the screening requirements.

Also, sperm banks may try to ensure that the sperm supplied for a particular recipient comes from a donor whose blood group and genetic profile is compatible with her own.

Bottom line, there are a host of emotional and legal implications that lesbian couples planning to get pregnant must consider when choosing a known or anonymous sperm donor. Take the time to discuss your options with an attorney well-versed with gay women’s family-building rights in your state to ensure that you, your partner’s and the best interest of your child(ren) are protected.

This content is Copyright The American Fertility Association (AFA) 2010. This content is intended for personal use and may not be distributed or reproduced without AFA consent. Please contact info@theafa.org or visit theafa.org for more information.


The American Fertility Association "Reproductive Options for Gay Women." October, 2010.