Commission’s final report calls for restrictions on surrogacy

| Bridget Ryder | December 21, 2016 | 0 Comments

Editor’s note: This is the fifth story in a series on surrogacy, which a Minnesota State Legislature commission is studying as it prepares to make public policy recommendations on the practice.

After four months of receiving testimony from surrogate mothers, lawyers, women’s rights advocates, doctors and children of surrogacy, a state legislative commission on surrogacy has recommended strict limits on commercial surrogacy.

Proponents of surrogacy and the surrogacy industry had advocated that surrogacy contracts that allow current practices — such as large compensation for surrogate mothers, international surrogacy arrangements and minimal screening of intended parents — be recommended as public policy. However, the commission’s majority report recommendations would curtail some of those practices.

The report is based on recommendations that the commission approved at a Dec. 8 meeting.

At that meeting, Rep. John Lesch (DFL-St. Paul) brought forward another report written outside of the commission. Its recommendations would have permitted the surrogacy industry to operate with little restriction, but it was voted down 6 to 4.

Kathryn Mollen, policy and outreach coordinator for the Minnesota Catholic Conference, attributed the outcome to the overall testimony to the commission members.

“It was very eye-opening to see how much money is involved in some of these transactions, and how much certain organizations have to gain financially by loosening restrictions on the surrogacy industry,” Mollen said. “The commission saw the need to remove some of the financial interests from surrogacy.”

The Minnesota Catholic Conference had backed the 2015 legislation that created the 15-member commission to take an in-depth look at surrogacy, in which a woman gestates a child for another parent or parents. Although several surrogacy agencies exist in the state, Minnesota law does not currently recognize surrogacy, leaving the arrangements to be carried out in a tenuous legal landscape and with little public oversight. Composed of state lawmakers and representatives from the state’s Department of Health, Department of Human Services and Supreme Court, the commission was tasked with developing public policy recommendations on surrogacy. It was led by co-chairs Rep. Peggy Scott (R-Andover) and Sen. Alice Johnson (DFL-Blaine).

The report significantly recommends either a ban on commercial surrogacy or a cap on the gift a surrogate mother could receive. Surrogacy opponents advocated for such a measure to prevent children from being treated as products and women as “wombs for rent.”

It also came through during testimony that without significant compensation, agencies would not be able to recruit enough surrogates to meet the numbers of intended parents coming to surrogacy brokers and fertility clinics.

The majority report also recommends allowing only U.S. citizens to participate in a Minnesota surrogacy contract, thereby removing the state from the international surrogacy market. It also recommends only single embryo transfers for surrogacy pregnancies, prohibiting the pregnancies with multiple babies that generate large profits.

The majority report also rejects legally recognizing traditional surrogacy, which is usually achieved through artificial insemination so that the surrogate mother is also the genetic mother of the child. In the majority recommendations, traditional surrogacy would have to follow adoption laws. As in adoption, no compensation would be allowed for the surrogate mother, and there would be a required 72-hour waiting period before she could legally surrender her maternal rights.

Mollen sees these provisions as protecting not only women who assume the risks of pregnancy as surrogates, but also children born through surrogacy.

“Commission members were impacted by hearing how little regard surrogacy contracts currently have for the best interests of the child, whereas that’s the primary focus of adoption,” she said. “Surrogacy is really a practice primarily about fulfilling the desires of adults. I believe the commission saw that this was a flaw and took steps to shift the focus to where it rightly belongs: the well-being of the child.”

The recommendations would also protect women from being forced to have abortions. Single embryo transfers would eliminate “selective reductions,” or abortions, sometimes performed when multiple embryos survive implantation. The recommendations also prohibit abortion clauses in surrogacy contracts so that intended parents could not use the contract to pressure a surrogate to have an abortion at their demand, as has happened, for example, in cases where the baby was found to have a birth defect.

Controversy over surrogacy is far from settled in Minnesota, but the report is a step in the right direction, surrogacy opponents say.

“The policy recommendations that resulted from the commission’s majority report seek to balance a host of competing interests, particularly the desire of many infertile couples to form families with legitimate public concerns about protecting the well-being of women and children,” Mollen said. “We are satisfied the majority report attempted to protect the well-being of women and children through its recommendations.”

Although the commission’s work is done, as public record, the report likely will serve as a resource for considerations of any future surrogacy legislation.

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Category: Faith and Culture