Kansas measure against surrogacy draws opposition
TOPEKA — An anti-surrogate parenting proposal in Kansas inspired strong criticism during a legislative hearing Monday from women who've served as surrogates, parents who've used such arrangements to have children and a doctor who described the Virgin Mary as a surrogate mother.
The Senate Public Health and Welfare Committee took testimony Monday on a proposal drafted by Chairwoman Mary Pilcher-Cook, a conservative Shawnee Republican. The measure, similar to an existing law in Washington, D.C., would void all surrogacy contracts and make it a misdemeanor to be involved in compensating a woman for being a surrogate. A person violating the law could be fined up to $10,000 and sentenced to up to a year in jail.
Pilcher-Cook and other supporters of the bill, including the Kansas Catholic Conference, said they're concerned because Kansas has no law specifically dealing with surrogacy contracts and they worry about the health of women serving as surrogates and the children born to them. Also, they argued, surrogacy potentially exploits poor women and turns children into commodities.
"Surrogacy undermines the dignity of women, children and human reproduction," said Jennifer Lahl, a pediatric nurse who is now president of the California-based Center for Bioethics and Culture. "Consider deeply what is at stake for the dignity of women and what is in truly the best interest of the children."
The hearing exposed a split among socially conservative Republican legislators who have been unified in supporting new abortion restrictions. Pilcher-Cook has pursued issues such as surrogacy and stem-cell research more ardently than other GOP lawmakers on the right.
But more than a dozen witnesses also testified against her bill, saying surrogacy should remain an option for women who struggle with infertility or have conditions that prevent them from carrying a child.
Dr. David Grainger, a Wichita physician who treats women with fertility problems, said he meditated Monday morning both on the bill and the Gospel of Luke's account of Jesus' conception and birth. He described the angel Gabriel's announcement to Mary that she would conceive and carry a child by God as a verbal contract.
"The bill would have criminalized the most important surrogacy pregnancy this world has ever seen," he said.
Andrew and Kelsey Marske, of Shawnee, brought their 6-week-old twins, Arthur and Augusta, to the Statehouse for the hearing. Kelsey Marske was born with a partial uterus, and her best friend carried the twins for the couple.
"It's just disheartening to be here, just six weeks after our twins were born, and know that this could be banned for somebody else," Kelsey Marske said, her voice breaking with emotion as she testified.
Martin Bauer, a Wichita attorney who's specialized in adoptions for 30 years, said Kansas law already protects women serving as surrogates from being exploited. He said adoption laws limit couples to reimbursing a birth mother for her expenses, and in the 1990s, the attorney general issued a legal opinion that the same restrictions apply to surrogacy.
Pilcher-Cook suggested toward the end of Tuesday's meeting that surrogacy is "creating a child that you know is purposely not going to have either a biological mother, biological father or both."
Audience members replied with loud comments, including, "That's not true!" Witnesses testifying against the bill said embryos result from the union of a husband's sperm and a wife's egg and are then implanted in the surrogates.
Pilcher-Cook said she's not sure when the committee will act on the bill and believes members need more information about the potential harm of surrogacy.
But after the hearing, Senate President Susan Wagle, a conservative Wichita Republican, and Senate Vice President Jeff King, a conservative Independence Republican, issued statements saying they don't support the measure.
Wagle said: "Criminalizing surrogate mothers is not a priority of this Legislature."