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Surrogacy bill: Needed changes or exploitation?

OLYMPIA – Because Washington state outlaws paying a surrogate mother to have a baby, some couples with fertility problems go to Oregon or California where they can hire women to carry a child.

Because state law also presumes that the birth mother has parental rights, some gay and lesbian couples have to go through legal adoption, even if one of them is a biological parent.

A bill in the Legislature would change both of those laws, and allow the state to recognize that not all families look like “Leave it to Beaver,” said the proposal’s sponsor, Rep. Jamie Pederson, D-Seattle. Laws against paying a surrogate mother have never been enforced, he added.

But HB 1267 would also turn surrogate mothers, and the babies they have, into commodities, opponents told the Senate Government Operations Committee Tuesday. The state doesn’t allow people to sell kidneys or other organs, and shouldn’t allow surrogate mothers to receive money for having a child...

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Russell Johnson of the Family Policy Institute likened the bill to slavery: “It allows legal rights to be attached to a person based on the exchange of money.”
Families that have paid surrogate mothers in states where that is legal told the committee about the difficulty and expense of repeated travel to where the surrogate lives. Steven Glass of Seattle said he and his wife made some two dozen trips to Portland to be with their twins’ surrogate mother during the pregnancy, but couldn’t get there in time for an emergency Caesarean section and had to fly the babies to a Seattle after they were born prematurely. The whole process cost about $80,000, although most of that was for legal and medical expenses and travel, he said.
But they were able to go to Oregon and did wind up with children under the current law, said Sen. Don Benton, R-Vancouver, who added: “Being a parent is expensive in many, many ways.”
Jen Havig of Vancouver said that when she and her partner decided to have a child, they used in vitro fertilization with one of her eggs that was carried by her partner Erinn. When the baby was born, Erinn had parental rights automatically under state law, but even though she was the biological mother, Jen had to go to court to adopt their daughter: “I had no parental rights for the first five months of her life.”
The bill would give parental rights to both members in a same-sex domestic partnership in those instances, which critics argued is unfair to heterosexual couples who must file affidavits of inability to have children in surrogacy cases.
Maureen Richardson, state director of Concerned Women for America, said the bill has  the “potential to exploit women and children” because birth mothers don't even have the right to hold a baby after birth and automatically lose custody rights in favor of the surrogate parents. Benton noted that some feminist groups oppose paid surrogacy.
But Sara Ainsworth of Legal Voice, a women’s legal rights group, said support and opposition are mixed: “There is no monolithic feminist position, just as there is no monolithic Christian position.”
The bill passed the House 57-41 last month on a mostly party-line vote. The Senate committee could vote on whether to send the bill to the floor as early as next Monday.

Jim Camden
Jim Camden joined The Spokesman-Review in 1981 and retired in 2021. He is currently the political and state government correspondent covering Washington state.

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