to set the ground rules for contracts between gestational carriers and
intended parents passed the Minnesota House last Monday, but only after
issues such as abortion and gay adoption made their way into a debate
that was dominated by Republicans.
Couples who cannot have biological children and have exhausted adoption
resources occasionally turn to surrogate mothers to carry their
children to term. Many times, those pregnancies gestate embryos that
are the product of genetic materials from at least one of the intended
parents. About 100 such arrangements are made in Minnesota each year
and there currently are no laws that govern such complicated and
important contracts and procedures.
On April 19, Jenny Fortwengler of Waite Park, Minn., gave birth as a surrogate mother,
an experience she said was a very life-affirming. "[The doctor] was
about to put the baby on my stomach when I pointed to the couple. "It’s
their baby,’ I said. When I saw them holding the baby, I started
crying. I thought to myself that this was amazing, and everything that
I had hoped it would be," she said. "[After the birth], I knew right
away that I wanted to go again… There are a lot of couples and
singles out there who need surrogates. I know that I can do this for
them, and that it gives me immense personal satisfaction."
The bill, authored by Rep. Kathy Tinglestad, R-Andover, would specify
the rights and responsibilities that intended parents have when they
contract with a woman to carry their child and make the surrogate
process easier and more transparent. The surrogate must be over 21,
must have a mental health evaluation, both parties must have separate
and independent legal counsel and the surrogate must be appropriately
compensated. The surrogate mother must have also given birth at least
once previous to signing a surrogacy contract.
But when reproductive health is the topic of discussion, social
conservatives and the religious right often find some way to stir up
emotions. The Minnesota Family Council has been very vocal in
opposition to the bill. "The legislation constitutes legalized
baby-selling and raises the specter of the state encouraging the new
eugenics — designer babies," a group representative wrote on the Web site.
And of course, the Family Council found a way to make an issue out of
gay marriage. "The state is facilitating and encouraging more children
raised without both a mother and father, e.g. more single parent,
cohabiting opposite- and same-sex parent households … Cohabiting and
lesbian partners of parties to these agreements are given parental
Officials of the Minnesota Catholic Conference have expressed that they
believe the Church would not approve of a bill providing guidelines for
surrogacy. "Donation of semen or ova and the use of surrogate
motherhood to bear children are contrary to the unity of marriage and
the dignity of the procreation of the human person," the group said in
a letter to Gov. Tim Pawlenty. "While we sympathize with childless
couples who are desperate to have children, the ends do not justify the
means. We hope that government will not attempt to redefine the natural
state of marriage and human procreation."
As the bill was debated in the House, several Republicans attempted to
ban abortion by amending the bill. Rep. Dan Severson introduced such an
amendment, but bill backer Rep. Steve Simon, DFL, told legislators it
wasn’t necessary. "[Minnesota Citizens Concerned for Life] is neutral
on this bill. I hope we don’t go down the path of making this about
abortion," he said. Despite that, a number of Republicans spoke in
support of an abortion ban in the bill. Severson said, "You’re going to
have rich people who are going to jump into this game and they are
going to want a basketball team of boys and a swim team of girls. Who
is advocating for the children? Who is advocating for the unborn?"
Tom Emmer, R-Delano, offered an amendment to replace the term "parents"
with the term "mother and father," a veiled effort to prevent gays,
lesbians and unmarried couples from using a surrogate mother. "The
whole purpose behind this legislation is people, husbands and wives who
are not able to conceive children," said Emmer. Tinglestad, who
authored the bill, said, "In adoption, we don’t require that the
intended parents be married or be a mother and father."
Rep. Karen Clark, DFL-Minneapolis, one of only three openly gay or
lesbian members of the legislature called Emmer out on his attempt at
discrimination. "Are you trying to prevent a certain group of people
from using this opportunity, this resource, and if so, who?" said
Clark. Emmer said he wasn’t. The amendment didn’t pass.
After an hour of lively debate, the bill passed the House 86-46. Pawlenty has not signaled whether or not he supports the bill.