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A bill being debated in the Minnesota Legislature would create a legislative commission to study the issue of surrogacy, and it’s being pushed forward by two anti-LGBT groups.

Senate File 348 would establish a commission of legislators from both the House and Senate to study the issue of surrogacy — a woman carrying a pregnancy for couples who cannot. It states: “The Legislative Commission to Study Surrogacy in Minnesota shall study and make recommendations regarding whether surrogacy agreements should be permitted as a matter of law and public policy.”

Surrogacy is an issue that has been debated at the Minnesota Legislature in the past. Minnesota has never had laws that govern surrogacy arrangements so those complicated relationships are conducted outside any state-regulated framework. In 2002, the Legislature convened a task force to study the issue, but that task force found that more study was needed.

Meanwhile, legislators on both sides of the aisle have attempted to create a legal framework for surrogacy over the last decade, but those efforts have repeatedly been thwarted, particularly by two groups: The Minnesota Family Council (MFC) and the Minnesota Catholic Conference (MNCC). Those groups are now taking the lead on an bill that some say is designed to keep surrogacy within the shadows of the law.

Senate File 348 starts out with a negative view of surrogacy. Its guiding principles state:

(7) while many families might desire to have a child, no one has a right to a child;
(8) children should have access to information about their biological and gestational parents if possible;
(9) serious consideration should be given to the ethical responsibility of using a
woman’s reproductive organs for remuneration;
(10) financial or other economic incentives have the potential to be coercive and
unfair;

Those views are echoed by MFC and MNCC.

Indeed, the bill’s author, Sen. Alice Johnson, a DFLer from Spring Lake Park, acknowledged that the two groups are behind the bill.

“I am not opposed to surrogacy,” Johnson told the Committee on State and Local Government at a hearing on Monday. “I am concerned about the exploitation of women. I’m carrying this bill and working with the Catholic Conference and the Minnesota Family [Council].”

That committee also heard from women who felt they had been exploited by surrogacy arrangements, as well as those who found the surrogacy experience a joyful and rewarding one.

Elisa Gomez told the committee that she regretted her decision to be a surrogate. Gomez was involved in a traditional surrogacy arrangement that utilized her egg and a donor sperm. But into the pregnancy, she become attached to the child. “When my daughter was born I felt an instant connection to her and I realized I had made a terrible mistake thinking I could give my child away, even with the understanding that I could be involved in her life.”

Gomez continued, “Unfortunately, the relationship with the couple deteriorated after my daughter was born. This deterioration led to painful emotional court battle for everyone involved. After the relationship deteriorated, we went to court to decide who would have full custody.”

“It is unlikely that the courts will ever give me any visitation,” she said.

However, Claire Nielson recounted her experience being a surrogate. “When I found out I was pregnant with my couple’s surrogate twins, I was over the moon. Two of the best memories were seeing my children for the first time and now I was going to be able to give that experience to someone else.”

She added, “I’m not giving these babies up; I am giving them back. I delivered a dream and it’s something I’ll never forget.”

Both Nielson and Gomez were compensated for her decision to be a surrogate, but both MNCC and MFC want that practice to be illegal.

Indeed, one testifier, Steven Snyder, an attorney who specialized in surrogacy arrangements told the committee: “This bill has negative language. [The legislative commission] has been proposed by the Minnesota Catholic Conference to get a negative report in order to bootstrap negative legislation.”

Last spring, a website sprung up for a coalition called Minnesotans for Surrogacy Awareness. The website doesn’t mention who the members of the coalition are nor who is behind the group. The Column sent an email to the group to find out what organizations were behind the “coalition” but that email was not returned. A search of website registration information shows that the Minnesota Catholic Conference’s Jason Adkins registered the website in 2014.

The only other mentions of the group online were from the Minnesota Family Council promoting the group’s petition.

The phone number for Minnesotans for Surrogacy Awareness is the same one used by the Minnesota Catholic Conference for the Minnesota for Marriage campaign against marriage equality in 2011 and 2012.

These two groups appear to be the only ones behind Minnesotans for Surrogacy Awareness. Both have opposed surrogacy, in part, because it’s a practice that same-sex couples can utilize.

In an email alert just before the hearing, Minnesota Family Council warned that LGBT interests were trying to derail the bill: “The bill requiring the Legislature to study commercial surrogacy is bipartisan and should not be controversial. Sadly, though, LGBT activist groups and attorneys who profit from surrogacy arrangements are opposing even a bill to study the issue.”

But no LGBT organizations or LGBT citizens testified at Monday’s hearing.

Writing in the official newspaper of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, Adkins wrote in 2013 under the title “Same-sex marriage is just the beginning” that Catholics should oppose legalizing surrogacy arrangements largely because same-sex couples might utilize them:

Speaking of nature, one more bill merits your close attention. Those who choose not to live in accordance with the natural law soon discover that it is difficult (impossible) for two people of the same sex to create a child. Sometimes, the natural desire to have children of one’s own persists, and therefore some same-sex couples resort to technology or the use of a surrogate mother to carry a child to term. Interestingly, though surrogacy agreements are becoming more common, they are not, as of yet, considered enforceable contracts under Minnesota law. The birth mother still has certain rights and responsibilities.
HF 291/SF 370 has been introduced to allow surrogacy agreements to be used as admissible evidence in custody proceedings between surrogate mothers and “intended parents.”
Widespread acceptance of surrogacy will likely transform the way in which our society brings children into the world. Children will become “products” that are produced, bought, and sold; often, poor women will become incubators for these new consumer “goods.”
The 2013 Minnesota legislative session is offering a glimpse into a brave new world. Though well-intentioned by some as a path to freedom from both nature and outdated social norms, it ultimately threatens our humanity.
Please take the time to oppose these three related bills.

The Catholic newspaper, Our Sunday Visitor profiled the work that the Minnesota Catholic Conference and the National Organization for Women have done jointly to raise awareness around the possible exploitation of women in surrogacy arrangements, but then he went a step further:

Adkins is not surprised by the normally adversarial parties finding common ground on the issue.
“There is a lot of overlap between feminism and John Paul II’s Theology of the Body,” Adkins said. The respect that the new saint confers upon women and their creative natures is destroyed by what Sloan and Adkins called the commodification and exploitation of women. Additionally, they contend that commercial surrogacy poses real health risks to women, makes children a marketable commodity and creates a breeder class of women marginalized by poverty for upper-class and gay couples.

In Focus on the Family’s Citizen magazine, Adkins said that the surrogacy industry is driven by the gay-rights lobby.

“When you legitimize the contract, then you create an environment where people can come here and make these contracts,” he explains. “Minnesota would then become a mecca (for surrogacy arrangements).”
In Minnesota, the surrogacy bills Adkins and [Minnesota Family Council’s Autumn] Leva opposed were drafted by attorneys from the family-law section of the state bar association. Adkins notes that the past president of the Minnesota State Bar is also legal director of the state’s largest gay-rights lobbying group. The conflict of interest, he says, is remarkable.
“They write these contracts, they do the litigation,” he explains. “There’s a lot of money at stake here. (Fertility) is a $4 billion industry nationwide.”

…”Creating and gestating children outside the context of a marriage between a man and a woman is deeply wrong and deeply troubling, and we need to think and pray long and hard as a society about that.”

Minnesota’s lack of a framework for surrogacy arrangements has been an issue with the state’s ranking on LGBT equality by the Human Rights Campaign. Without some legislative direction, LGBT families can find themselves in legal limbo.

A framework for surrogacy arrangements almost became law in Minnesota in 2008, but was vetoed by Gov. Tim Pawlenty — only after Rep. Tom Emmer tried to prevent same-sex couples from utilizing surrogacy. The Minnesota Independent reported at the time:

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.”

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 rights.”

On Monday, the committee debated whether a task force made up of experts or a legislative commission should be created to study the issue of surrogacy, much like the task force in 2002. But, much like the task force before it, the committee decided that more study was needed and voted to table the bill. Legislators will spend some time to study whether a commission or a task force is the best format to move forward. The bill is expected to be taken up by the committee again within the next few weeks.

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Andy Birkey

Andy Birkey has written for a number of Minnesota and national publications. He founded Eleventh Avenue South which ran from 2002-2011, wrote for the Minnesota Independent from 2006-2011, the American Independent from 2010-2013. His writing has appeared in The Advocate, The Star Tribune, The Huffington Post, Salon, Cagle News Service, Twin Cities Daily Planet, TheUptake, Vita.mn and much more. His writing on LGBT issues, the religious right and social justice has won awards including Best Beat Reporting by the Online News Association, Best Series by the Minnesota chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists, and an honorable mention by the Sex-Positive Journalism awards.

3 COMMENTS

  1. St. John Paul II’s Theology of the Body (TOB) may provide a solid basis for solving the most pressing issues of human sexuality, both in families and in the Church as the family of God, including the ordination of women to the priesthood in the Catholic and Orthodox churches. The TOB endorses neither radical patriarchy nor radical feminism, and provides a vision of marriage, and gender relations in general, that can be summarized as unity in diversity (“original unity of man and woman”), individuality in community (“communion of persons”) and equality in mutuality (“spousal meaning of the body”). The complementarity of man and woman is for reciprocity and mutual enrichment, not mutual exclusion.

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