By Hannah Swank
KU Statehouse Wire Service
The Kansas Senate Public Health and Welfare Committee began discussions Monday of Senate Bill 302, which would criminalize surrogate parenting contracts in the state of Kansas.
The bill proposed by committee chair Sen. Mary Pilcher-Cook (R-Shawnee) states: “Surrogate parenting contracts are hereby declared to be against public policy and such contracts shall be void and unenforceable.”
The bill further says that any person or entity involved in a surrogate parenting contract for compensation would be found guilty of an unclassified misdemeanor and subject to a fine of up to $10,000 and up to one year in county jail.
The hearing granted 20 minutes of testimony for opponents, 15 minutes for proponents and 5 minutes for the neutral position expressed by Sen. David Haley (D-Kansas City). Since the bill deals with matters of legal contracts, Haley said the bill would be better addressed by the Senate Judiciary Committee.
“We are speaking, not necessarily about a health procedure, mechanism or health plan, but primarily about existing legal contracts and how they are to be evaluated, amended and potentially abolished,” Haley said. “That is the providence of the Judiciary Committee.”
Proponents of the bill included Jennifer Lahl, founder and president of the Center for Bioethics and Culture Network in California, who said her criticisms of surrogate parenting are the physical harm to women, the risk and harm to children and the commercialization of conception.
Another proponent, Michael Schuttloffel, Executive Director of the Kansas Catholic Conference, said surrogacy violates the sacred bond between mother and child and the dignity of both is disrespected through the process.
“It’s deeply disturbing that society has become so comfortable with the idea of intentionally designing arrangements where children are not birthed and raised by their biological parents,” Schuttoffel said. “While we may have the technological means to engage some of these more exotic reproductive experiments, we do not have the technology to refashion human nature.”
Many opponents of the bill who testified Monday included adoption agents, women who have acted as surrogate mothers and parents who have used surrogate parenting methods, including Wichita couple Hilary and Geoff Louvar.
“I don’t see how a senator that claims to be such a strong advocate for the pro-life movement would want to abolish contracts protecting the very families that want to create life,” Hilary Louvar wrote in a prepared testimony she plans to read when the hearings continue Tuesday.
Their son, Griffen, was born in 2011 through a gestational carrier and they plan to have another child in 2014 through surrogacy.
“This isn’t anti-abortion. This is anti-family. This is anti-American,” Hilary Louvar said of the proposed bill. “Penalize the small; don’t penalize the masses.”
Lynlee Weber, a mother and gestational carrier of six children, said surrogacy has taught her daughter lessons about compassion, trust, sacrifice and social justice.
“We must be able to decide for ourselves if carrying another person’s child is right for us. It’s up to the parents to decide if that’s the way for their child to enter the world,” Weber said.
In Washington D.C., a law banning surrogate parenting has been in place for about 20 years. Courtney Wilson, representative of RESOLVE: the National Infertility Association, said the Washington D.C. city council held hearings to overturn the law.
“The city council will be voting this spring on a new law that will allow gestational carrier arrangements in Washington, D.C.,” Wilson said. “They have already had a hearing on this bill and indications are that they’re ready to overturn their outdated and restrictive law.”
Pilcher-Cook said she introduced the bill to initiate a discussion about surrogate parenting. The Public Health and Welfare Committee will continue its discussion of the bill on Tuesday with more testimonies from each side.