Children born abroad to surrogate mothers have thus far been denied French birth certificates and a means to prove citizenship. Friday’s case could change that.

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PARIS (AP) — France’s highest court tackled a sensitive subject Friday as parents challenged laws that effectively deny citizenship to surrogate children — children one lawyer called “ghosts of the Republic.”

Friday’s case could change how surrogate births are handled in France, where infertility treatments are highly regulated and where many consider it unethical for anyone to make money off human reproduction.

Until now, children born abroad to surrogate mothers have been denied French birth certificates and a means to prove citizenship.

Last year, Europe’s top human rights court ordered France to change the law, saying France’s refusal to recognize the children was “an attack on the child’s identity, for which descent is an essential component.” France has yet to comply.

Infertile and same-sex couples who want a family have limited options in France. For-profit sperm banks are forbidden, as is surrogate parenthood. All sperm and egg donations must be anonymous and from someone who is already a parent.

The high court ruled in 2013, the same year that France legalized gay marriage, that surrogate babies were born fraudulently and could not receive birth certificates even if the biological father was French.

Children born abroad to a French parent are otherwise automatically granted a French birth certificate in addition to whatever citizenship is conferred by the birth country.

“For France, these are neither my children nor my husband’s,” said Sarah Levine, a Denver native who is married to a Frenchman and is the mother of two children born to surrogate mothers in the United States. “According to French law, we are nothing.”

A gay couple with a now 3-year-old son born to a surrogate mother in Russia has challenged the law, as did a single father in a similar situation. In both cases, the Russian birth certificates bear the names of the French fathers and the Russian mothers.

In court on Friday, Patrick Spinosi, a lawyer arguing on behalf of parents, said French courts had to resolve “the deafening silence of legislators.” He described the 200 children involved as “ghosts of the Republic” suffering “collateral damage” from decisions beyond their control.

Prosecutor Jean-Claude Marin, defending the justice system, condemned the “commodification of women’s bodies” — although he said he would not oppose recognizing children whose French fathers can prove a biological link.

Most couples who seek surrogate mothers abroad are heterosexual, but Friday’s case is of special significance to gay couples, who can now legally marry in France but have limited parenting options.

One of the fathers whose case was heard Friday, Dominique Boren, told The Associated Press that he was confident that his son would be given access to citizenship, and expressed hope that the laws would change for heterosexual couples as well, and “for those who come afterward.”

The court plans to rule on July 3.