Fertility fraud would become a crime under bill passed by Assembly

By: - January 26, 2023 6:42 pm

Assemblyman Brian Bergen argued against a bill that would establish Kimchi Day. (Hal Brown for New Jersey Monitor)

Fertility fraud would be a crime under a measure approved by the Assembly Thursday.

Health practitioners using their own sperm or someone else’s without consent during in-vitro fertilization or another fertility method would be guilty of a crime in the third degree.

It’s an offense in the spotlight due to DNA testing kits and a rise in in-vitro pregnancies.

In 2021, a 37-year-old New Jersey woman got results from DNA testing kit 23AndMe that revealed her father was the gynecologist who conducted the artificial insemination. The mother, now 75, called it medical rape. And in Indiana, a once well-respected fertility doctor in the 1970s and ’80s was found to be inseminating patients with his own sperm without their knowledge, leading to over 94 biological children.

The bill would allow for prosecution up to 20 years after the treatment was conducted or within 10 years of the victim becoming aware of the crime. The health practitioner would face permanent license revocation and registration as a sex offender if found guilty.

It passed the Assembly unanimously but does not have a Senate companion. 

The measure was one of dozens of bills passed in Trenton Thursday. 

A bill establishing the crime of “sextortion” is quickly making its way through the Legislature. Under the bill, using sexual images — whether stolen through hacking or sent under coercion — to extort victims into sending money or more photos would be a third-degree crime.

Federal officials are sounding the alarm on sexual extortion, which is on the rise, especially among teenage boys. But there’s also a gap in state and federal laws — just 17 states ban sexual extortion.

Introduced earlier this month, the legislation passed unanimously and now heads to the state Senate.

Another bill passed Thursday would allow marriages and civil union licenses to be issued over video, a trend that has skyrocketed since the pandemic. The measure would allow a couple, along with a witness, to appear via webcam to obtain the license and to take their vows. 

Current law requires people to appear in person before a licensing official and says the marriage or civil union can only be solemnized when the couple is present with an officiant and two witnesses. The new legislation would expand that, though the video would have to be live and include sound.

The bill, which passed overwhelmingly, is awaiting a hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee. 

While Thursday’s session was largely mundane with little debate, the fiery moment of the day came when the chamber voted on a resolution to name Nov. 22 as Kimchi Day annually, a measure sponsored by Assemblywoman Ellen Park (D-Bergen), the first Korean American to serve in the Legislature.

Park said the bill honors over 4,000 years of tradition in Korean culture, and noted several other states, like New York and Virginia, have passed similar bills. By passing it, the Legislature recognizes the significance of kimchi to Korean Americans in New Jersey, she said. 

Assemblyman Brian Bergen (R-Morris) rose to urge his colleagues to vote no because it’s a “complete, colossal waste of this body’s time.” He vowed to vote no on any day named after food. 

The measure passed overwhelmingly — Bergen voted no, and a handful of Republicans abstained — leaving Assembly members applauding and laughing.

Other bills approved Thursday include measures that would:

  • Validate certain lottery winnings of $600 or more via the internet or phone apps, instead of requiring the ticket to be mailed to state Lottery headquarters. 
  • Create a certification card for people diagnosed with autism, which would be issued by the state and include an emergency contact to call in stressful or difficult situations.
  • Require the Attorney General’s Office to better identify how people in underserved communities are vulnerable to human trafficking. 
  • Allow unemployment claimants to continue collecting benefits during certain labor disputes.

An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated a bill that would upgrade charges for people who assault sports officials and a bill to ban the sale of some dietary pills to minors passed the Assembly. Those bills did not go up for a vote Thursday.  

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Sophie Nieto-Munoz
Sophie Nieto-Munoz

Sophie Nieto-Muñoz, a New Jersey native and former Trenton statehouse reporter for NJ.com, shined a spotlight on the state’s crumbling unemployment system and won several awards for investigative reporting from the New Jersey Press Association. She was a finalist for the Livingston Award for Young Journalists for her report on PetSmart's grooming practices, which was also recognized by the New York Press Club. Sophie speaks Spanish and is proud to connect to the Latinx community through her reporting.