February 22, 2019

ICC opposes bill creating legal framework for gestational surrogacy

By Victoria Arthur

A bipartisan bill intended to protect the parties involved in gestational surrogacy cases is moving forward at the Indiana Statehouse amid serious concerns by the Catholic Church about this increasingly common reproductive method.

House Bill 1369 would create a framework of legal protections for both the intended parents in such cases and the surrogate carrying the child for them. In gestational surrogacy, a woman carries a baby for another couple but is not genetically related to the child. Instead, the baby is conceived using the egg and sperm of the intended parents or a donated source through in vitro fertilization (IVF), and then transferred to the surrogate’s uterus. The bill would address current ambiguities in Indiana law surrounding this type of assisted reproduction, including making contracts between the parties legally enforceable.

But reducing human reproduction to a business transaction is just one of the many grave moral issues raised by these types of practices, according to the Indiana Catholic Conference (ICC), which opposes House Bill 1369. Glenn Tebbe, executive director of the ICC—the public policy voice of the Catholic Church in Indiana—was the only witness testifying against the bill during a committee hearing on the measure on Feb. 11.

“Surrogacy is, at its core, a practice of exploitation and commodification of human life—especially of women and children,” Tebbe said. “This is true whether it is considered ‘commercial’ or ‘altruistic.’ It reduces reproduction down to an essentially economic exchange. Those who are interested in protecting and fostering the authentic interests of women would do well to avoid giving government sanction to a practice that clearly reduces women down to their biological parts and treats them as commodities.”

Tebbe noted that countries, including Ireland, France and Denmark, ban surrogacy in all its forms. In the United States, most states have no law governing gestational surrogacy, while Arizona and New York legally forbid it.

Gestational surrogacy is legal in Indiana but open to dispute because of its lack of definition, according to Rep. Sean Eberhart (R-Shelbyville), the primary author of House Bill 1369.

“The issue that this bill attempts to address is that any agreement reached between the intended parents and the surrogate is not enforceable in a court of law,” Eberhart said during last week’s hearing of the House judiciary committee. “We’re only one of five states that doesn’t allow the contract between those parties to be enforced, which can cause quite a few problems.”

Eberhart and witnesses testifying in favor of the bill—which passed 9-1 during the hearing—cited numerous issues that can arise in such cases. Without enforceable provisions, a surrogate couldn’t be required to keep the intended parents informed of the progress of her pregnancy, for example. The intended parents could decide to no longer compensate the surrogate for her services or continue paying for her medical expenses.

“[This bill] spells out everything required for a gestational surrogacy to take place,” Eberhart said. “We talk about what each party has to do before they enter into an agreement and decide to go through with this act.”

But the Catholic Church’s concerns extend into other aspects of gestational surrogacy, Tebbe noted. That includes IVF, which is required in this reproductive method and typically results in multiple embryos being discarded or frozen indefinitely.

“The Church opposes the commodification, manufacture or sale of human beings and, consequently, any measure that expands or eases the abilities of private or public entities to engage in such socially damaging activities,” Tebbe said. “House Bill 1369, notwithstanding its intended outcomes, has the effect of treating human beings as a commodity both in the in vitro process and through surrogacy. We therefore oppose the bill as dangerous and not in the best interest of society and the individuals involved.”

Supporters of the bill argued that gestational surrogacy is already a widespread practice and a valid option for couples facing infertility.

One of House Bill 1369’s co-authors, Rep. Ryan Hatfield (D-Evansville), an attorney himself, cited an example from his own practice that he says underscores the need for this measure.

“I had a couple approach me over the summer for a surrogacy contract,” Hatfield said. “When I dug into this, I was shocked at how little law and how few statutes pertain to this issue. Whether you support or oppose surrogacy, I think that this adds a better and more substantial framework around this issue to protect everybody involved. I believe this is a good step forward no matter how you view the overall issue.”

Tebbe, however, offered a counterpoint to this argument.

“Some might say that surrogacy will happen regardless, so it is better for it to be a regulated process to ensure that the interests of each party are protected,” he said. “This is like arguing that human trafficking will happen regardless of our laws banning it, so it is more pragmatic, then, to regulate it. Regulating a practice that debases and commodifies women and children does not and cannot transform it into something good and worthwhile.”

At press time, the bill was scheduled to be considered by the full Indiana House of Representatives.

To follow this and other priority legislation of the ICC, visit www.indianacc.org. This website includes access to I-CAN, the Indiana Catholic Action Network, which offers the Church’s position on key issues. Those who sign up for I-CAN receive alerts on legislation moving forward and ways to contact their elected representatives.
 

(Victoria Arthur, a member of St. Malachy Parish in Brownsburg, is a correspondent for The Criterion.)

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