Faith community asks governor to veto surrogacy bill

State Rep. Gary L. Smith Jr., D - Norco, District 56
State Rep. Gary L. Smith Jr., D - Norco, District 56

Gov. Bobby Jindal is under pressure from the faith community to veto legislation that would set up a legal framework in Louisiana for surrogate births.

Among the 433 bills that made it to the governor’s desk in the recent legislative session, the Louisiana Family Forum and the Louisiana Conference of Catholic Bishops targeted just one: Senate Bill 162. The groups want the governor to stop the legislation from becoming state law.

“It threatens the integrity of the traditional family,” Louisiana Family Forum President Gene Mills said Wednesday.

On the opposite end of the spectrum is state Sen. Gary Smith, D-Norco, who filed SB162 after he and his wife, Katherine, turned to surrogates in Nevada and California to carry their biological children. They used surrogates because of medical problems, and they did not want to grapple with legal complications that could arise in Louisiana.

Smith said parents who work with surrogates in Louisiana run the risk of a custody battle or a long fight to put the biological mother’s name on the birth certificate.

“I’m hoping (the governor will) see the necessity for this ... instead of allowing the wild West to continue to happen,” Smith said.

Jindal must make a decision within the next few weeks. He can sign the bill, veto it or allow it to become law without his signature.

The governor’s spokesman, Sean Lansing, said Wednesday that the Jindal administration still is reviewing the bill. Lansing did not respond to a request for an interview with the governor on the issue.

Surrogacy is legal in Louisiana. However, contracts between surrogates and biological parents are not enforceable by the courts.

SB162 would authorize courts to approve gestational surrogacy contracts when a husband and wife encounter medical problems in producing a child. The surrogate would be allowed compensation for medical expenses, counseling, living expenses and travel costs. The bill is silent on repercussions for violations.

During the session, legislators struggled with the bill. On their desks were a photo of Smith’s children and a floor note from the family forum.

The Louisiana Family Forum characterizes itself as a voice for traditional families. The influential group’s action arm grades legislators each year on issues such as abortion and gambling. Last year, the family forum claimed the governor acted on its request and vetoed three video poker bills.

Mills said he is concerned about the contract and commerce portions of the surrogacy bill.

In a letter to the governor, he said the bill “sets up a legal structure that will welcome into Louisiana a multi-billion-dollar commercial surrogacy industry and the accompanying commodification of pregnancy and birth.”

Also against the bill is the Louisiana Conference of Catholic Bishops.

The conference’s associate director, Robert Tasman, said there was little chance of reaching a compromise with Smith given church teaching.

“Surrogacy is just not acceptable,” Tasman said.

Both groups expressed concerns that extra embryos could be destroyed or that defective fetuses could be aborted. They worry the compensation feature of the contracts could be exploited or violated without penalties.

Smith said he just wants to set up a legal framework for a limited scenario in which a husband and wife contribute the biological material that creates a child carried by a surrogate.

He said Louisiana courts do not know how to handle surrogacy cases because they lack guidance from the Legislature on something as simple as how to fill out a birth certificate when the birth mother is not the biological mother.

“At the end of the day, this is a pro-family bill,” Smith said.

The Louisiana House voted 85-12 in favor of sending the legislation to the governor’s desk after long debate. The vote in the Senate also tilted overwhelmingly in favor of the proposal.

State Sen. Page Cortez, R-Lafayette, cast one of the few “nay” votes in the state Senate.

Cortez said he struggled with his decision before deciding to let his Catholic faith carry the weight. “The Catholic bishops just couldn’t support it. That was really where I landed on the bill,” Cortez said.

Another Catholic legislator, state Rep. Joseph Lopinto, voted in favor of the bill after publicly sharing the struggle he and his wife endured in becoming parents. The couple welcomed twins two years ago through in-vitro fertilization.

Lopinto, R-Metairie, said SB162 is fair and restrictive. “It’s not a moral issue. These are medical issues,” he said.

Mills and Smith said they both talked to the governor, who is Catholic, without receiving a commitment on whether or not he will sign the legislation.

“I don’t know what the governor does,” Lopinto said. “I know he’s in a pickle.”