Babies for sale; film, proposed bill takes aim at surrogacy

by Joe Bollig
joe.bollig@theleaven.org

KANSAS CITY, Kan. — How far would you go to have a baby? How much money would you pay? How far would you push the limits of technology, morality and ethics?

One Kansas state senator fears that the pursuit of pregnancy fueled by money and technology is driving society off a moral and ethical cliff.

This legislative session, Sen. Mary Pilcher-Cook, R-Shawnee, will introduce legislation to ban surrogacy in Kansas.

To boost her efforts, she has invited Jennifer Lahl, who made a film — “Breeders” — on the topic, to offer testimony and screenings of the film in Topeka and Kansas City, Kan., this month.

Some screenings will be sponsored by the Topeka chapter of the National Organization of Women, and others will be sponsored by the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas.

Surrogacy is when an infertile individual or couple arranges to have a woman become pregnant and give birth on their behalf. Broadly speaking, there are two types of surrogacy.

In so-called “traditional” surrogacy, the woman uses her own egg and is inseminated with the sperm of a male.

In so-called “gestational” surrogacy, the surrogate woman is implanted with an embryo created through in vitro fertilization technology (IVF). The embryo may or may not have been created with reproductive material from the intended, or “social,” parents or from other donors.

In vitro fertilization became widespread after the first IVF baby, Louise Brown, was born in 1978. The first surrogate pregnancies soon followed, as did controversy. In 1986, surrogate mother Mary Beth Whitehead’s desire to keep the baby led to a legal battle.

Lahl, in addition to being a filmmaker, is founder and president of the San  Francisco-based Center for Bioethics and Culture. She is a nurse by training and has a graduate degree in bioethics.

“My film ‘Breeders’ is a three-part series,” said Lahl. “The first is ‘Eggsploitation,’ the second is ‘Anonymous Father’s Day,’ and the third — ‘Breeders’ — looks at surrogacy.”

“Breeders” is a documentary that asks such questions as: Should we do this? Should women be paid to have babies for other women? What are the problems and complications that may arise?

The film definitely has a point of view.

“We don’t make religious arguments,” she said. “We make very strong arguments about the use of women’s bodies, about the role of money . . . [about] what happens to babies and mothers when they are told not to bond, and what this does to children to be treated as products to be bought and sold.”

One of the surrogates in the film was told she had to have an abortion because it was diagnosed with Down syndrome.

“[It’s] all about the complexities of buying and selling children, and paying women to have babies,” said Lahl. “Kansas will be the first place on the planet to publicly see this film.”

There isn’t a lot of good information about surrogacy in Kansas, according to Ron Kelsey, archdiocesan consultant for pro-life ministry.

“As with IVF, there is very little regulation in many states, and there is no federal law on surrogacy,” said Kelsey. “There isn’t a lot of tracking data.”

According to the best information available, surrogacy is growing rapidly, he said.

“There are virtually no statistics on how many women and families are involved in the surrogacy markets. . . . Nevertheless, the available reports from the [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] and the Society for Assisted Reproductive Technology (SART) clearly show that the number of infants born to gestational surrogates almost doubles from 2004 to 2008. . . . These numbers, while only skimming the surface of the entire surrogacy market, will surely continue to rise,” according to the 2010 report “Surrogacy in America” by the Council for Responsible Genetics.

That same report, while noting that Kansas has no laws regarding surrogacy, reported that there were two attorney general opinions regarding surrogacy, given on July 2, 1982, and Sept 11, 1996.

“We need to once again honor the biological connection of mothers and fathers with their children,” said Pilcher-Cook. “I’m concerned that we are violating the natural law in many situations in our state through or lack of laws.”

The law that Pilcher-Cook will propose borrows language from an existing law for the District of Columbia. She doesn’t know how much support the bill will receive from colleagues.

“It’s not a subject that is often discussed,” she said. “It comes up in the news periodically. Legislators, for the most part, don’t hear about the heartaches and problems that happen in this area. So, what we are attempting to do is shine some light on the subject.”

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