After MCC push, surrogacy commission begins work on issue

| July 6, 2016 | 0 Comments

A 15-member legislative commission charged with developing public policy recommendations regulating commercial surrogacy met for the first time June 28, launching a study that people on different sides of the issue say has been a long time coming.

“It really is long overdue for the legislators to sit down and talk about these issues to decide whether we want our state to be part of the global surrogacy industry,” said Kathryn Mollen, Minnesota Catholic Conference policy and outreach coordinator. “It’s time to figure out how we are going to best protect women and children, and what surrogacy laws and public policy will help us best be able to do so.”

Minnesota law does not recognize surrogacy, when a woman becomes pregnant and carries a child for another intended parent or parents. The lack of legal standing calls into question the validity of surrogacy contracts. MCC-backed legislation passed in May to establish the commission. The MCC has argued that the issue was too complex to be analyzed in a few legislative hearings as is typical for bills introduced during session.

In “traditional surrogacy” arrangements, the child is biologically related to the surrogate, as the child was conceived through her egg and donor sperm. More frequently, however, surrogates undergo in vitro fertilization with an embryo not biologically related to them, in arrangements known as “gestational surrogacy.” Experts suggest that surrogates are less likely to bond with a child to whom they have no biological connections, lessening the chance of paternity disputes if the terms of the contract are violated.

Representatives of the MCC, which lobbies for public policy on behalf of the state’s bishops, have expressed concern for the well-being of women, especially the surrogates themselves, as well as the children involved in commercial — or paid — surrogacy arrangements.

Mollen pointed to a recent case in which a California surrogate was financially pressured by an intended father to abort one of the triplets she was carrying for him, as he said he could only afford two children. The surrogate delivered the three babies in February, and is now fighting in court for custody of the child the father didn’t want.

MCC is working with a coalition of state, national and global organizations as part of Minnesotans for Surrogacy Awareness. Partners include feminist advocate Kathleen Sloan, the Minnesota Family Council and the California-based Center for Bioethics and Culture, which produced the 2014 surrogacy documentary “Breeders: A Subclass of Women.”

While acknowledging the suffering of couples experiencing infertility, the Catholic Church considers gestational surrogacy and gamete donation “gravely immoral.” “These techniques . . . infringe the child’s right to be born of a father and mother known to him and bound to each other by marriage. They betray the spouses’ ‘right to become a father and mother only through each other,’” states the Catechism of the Catholic Church, citing the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith’s 1987 document “Donum Vitae,” or “Respect for Human Life.”

MCC sees its focus on commercial surrogacy as a prudent application of the Church’s social teaching to a timely issue.

“Commercial surrogacy poses particular dangers to women and children, and we think we have an opportunity here to put some commonsense policies in place to protect them,” Mollen said.

Challenging the commission’s work is a lack of data. Minnesota does not collect comprehensive statistics on the occurrence of surrogacy in the state, and national statistics are incomplete. State laws also vary widely, complicating situations when the gestational surrogate is in Minnesota and the intended parents live elsewhere.

A 2002 report from the Minnesota Uniform Parentage Act Task Force stated surrogacy agreements needed additional analysis. Several bills to legalize different aspects of surrogacy arrangements have since been introduced. One passed the Legislature in 2008, but was vetoed by Gov. Tim Pawlenty.

In his veto letter, Pawlenty wrote, “Although I agree that certain legal parameters may be needed, this bill raises some significant ethical and public policy issues that have not been adequately addressed,” citing the need for stronger protections for the surrogate mother, including making her own medical decisions during the pregnancy and the right to refuse requests that she abort.

At the commission’s first meeting, members elected as co-chairs the companion bills’ primary authors,
Sen. Alice Johnson (DFL-Blaine) and Rep. Peggy Scott (R-Andover). Members also heard a historical overview of efforts to codify surrogacy practices in state law.

“I’m excited that we’ve started our work, and I think we’ve set the groundwork to move forward for the State of Minnesota on this issue,” Scott said. “There are no guardrails in the State of Minnesota for what is in a contract. There are so many moving parts to this issue.”

The commission is in the process of establishing meeting dates and seeking public testimony from experts and people with surrogacy experience. It plans to submit a report, which could inform legislation, to the Minnesota Legislature by Dec. 15.

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