TOPEKA — Several Wichitans came to the Capitol on Monday to voice their outrage over a bill that would criminalize surrogacy contracts.
The bill introduced by Sen. Mary Pilcher-Cook, R-Shawnee and chairwoman of the Public Health and Welfare Committee, would make it a misdemeanor to hire or act as a surrogate for compensation. Anyone found guilty of the offense would face a fine up to $10,000 or one year imprisonment.
The committee heard testimony in a hearing that was so full, many of the attendees were left standing in the doorway.
The bill, though, seems unlikely to gain traction. After the hearing, the Senate’s Republican leaders said they don’t think a majority of their members support the bill.
“Criminalizing surrogate mothers is not a priority of this legislature,” Senate President Susan Wagle, R-Wichita, said in an e-mail.
Supporters of the bill, such as Michael Schuttloffel, executive director of the Kansas Catholic Conference, argued during the hearing that surrogate contracts make children into a commodity.
“You don’t see a lot of women who are not poor signing up to be surrogate mothers,” he said. “It seems on its face to be very exploitative.
“Then we also think there’s a very serious concern when it comes to the fact that these children are being brought into the world … (and) as a matter of design, you’re going to take the child away from the woman who brought that child into the world.”
The bill’s supporters argued that surrogacy differs from adoption.
“With adoption, we are trying to help a child in a crisis situation,” Pilcher-Cook said. “With surrogacy, it’s a little bit different because you are creating a child purposely that you know is not going to have a biological mother.”
The comment produced outrage from many of the meeting’s attendees, many of them parents of children born through surrogacy.
Hilary Louvar, a Wichita mother whose 3-year-old son, Griffen, was born from surrogacy, was brought to tears by the proceedings.
“I mean, my surrogate baby’s only 3,” Louvar said. “He knows his whole story.
“If you ask him how he was born, he will tell you he was in Melissa’s tummy. And he will grow up with dignity.”
David Grainger, a physician from the Center for Reproductive Medicine in Wichita, said the bill would have made the Immaculate Conception illegal. He said that Mary entered into a contract with Gabriel to carry a child that was not her husband’s.
Grainger also said claims that surrogacy creates greater health risks for women and children were factually untrue. He said pregnancy always comes with risks but that if the surrogate mother is healthy, it poses no greater risk than a normal pregnancy.
By banning contracts, the bill in effect bans surrogacy, argued Martin Bauer, a Wichita attorney who attended the hearing to voice his opposition to the bill.
“That bill basically says children should only be the result of sex between a husband and wife,” Bauer said.
When asked about his point after the hearing, Pilcher-Cook was unclear about the bill’s intention.
“The reason the bill was introduced was to start a discussion on the issue of surrogacy,” she said.
On what she hopes to achieve through that discussion, Pilcher-Cook was equally vague.
“I want to hear from all parties,” she said. “I want to learn about it and committee members to learn about it as much as possible.”
Lynlee Weber, a graduate student at Wichita State University, said she has given birth to six children as a surrogate. She said she was insulted by the claim that she had been exploited.
“Allow us the freedom to create life where there would otherwise only be absence and loss,” Weber said.
Although she opposes the bill, Wagle said in her e-mail that she supports the committee chairwoman’s right to hold hearings on the matter.
“This is a representative democracy, and I will not limit Sen. Pilcher-Cook’s right to introduce any legislation or hold hearings on any topic she would like,” Wagle said in the e-mail.
“However, I personally don’t support this bill, and I certainly don’t think a majority of our members do either.”
Sen. Jacob LaTurner, R-Pittsburg, a Catholic and member of the committee, said he appreciated the concern over the ethics of surrogacy but questioned whether this bill was the right solution.
“I’m not convinced that we need to do anything at this time,” he said. “I am convinced, though, that if we do something, I can’t do something that’s going to throw someone in jail for a year. I don’t want to be part of a bill that does that.
“It’s not very compassionate.”
Sen. Laura Kelly, D-Topeka, a member of the health committee, voiced her frustration with the hearing, which she said was on “an invented issue” and noted that it came less than a week after the committee observed a live sonogram during a meeting.
“I’m getting a little tired of walking into a committee meeting and walking straight into a three-ring circus,” Kelly said. “Absolutely no doubt in my mind that it has become an ideological platform for the chair.”