Senate-passed surrogate bill clears House panel

State Sen. Gary Smith and his wife went out of state to have their biological children born using a surrogate mom.

On Monday, the Montz legislator got a House committee to advance legislation that would regulate the practice if other married couples want to do the same thing in Louisiana.

The House Civil Law Committee voted 9-1 for the Senate-passed measure, which was opposed from both ends of the political spectrum. Gay rights advocates complained about exclusion and the Louisiana Family Forum and Louisiana Conference of Catholic Bishops objected on ethical and moral grounds.

Senate Bill 162, which cleared the Senate 30-4, now moves to the House floor for debate.

The legislation came as a recommendation from the Louisiana Law Institute after three years of study by a special committee.

Smith has firsthand knowledge of the issue, gleaned as he and wife Katherine started trying to have children and found, as he said, that because of a “medical complication she could not carry.”

“We looked at all our options,” Smith said. “We found we could produce an embryo of our own — Katherine and my DNA” and use a gestational carrier for the birth.

“There are good people out there that want to help,” Smith said.

Women in California and Nevada delivered the Smiths two children — Henry, 21/2 years old, and Anna Pierce, 10 weeks.

Smith said the couple opted for out-of-state births because, although it does not appear to be illegal in Louisiana, “there are no rules or regulations” to protect all involved, including the newborn.

“This bill sets up a very tight set of guidelines,” Smith said. It also sets up judicial oversight through every step of the process and is only available to Louisiana married couples, he said.

Smith said 12 other states allow gestational surrogacy in some form. Another dozen states are debating the issue, he said.

“Let our Louisiana children be born here in Louisiana,” said Kristy McKearn, who with her husband has a 4-year-old son, Jack, born in California.

She called the woman who delivered Jack “our angel who gave us the best gift ever, our son.”

If a surrogate had delivered their child in Louisiana, she would have had to go to court to adopt her biological child, McKearn said.

Opponent Sarah Jane Brady, of the Forum for Equality, said the bill’s application only to married persons was “too restrictive.” She said Louisiana law allows single people to adopt and the surrogacy proposal should too.

Kathleen Benfield, of Louisiana Family Forum, questioned the payments to the woman carrying the baby and the potential of abortions if the potential of multiple births arises.

State Rep. Jeff Arnold, D-New Orleans, said he thought the Family Forum was in favor of “traditional biological families in Louisiana.”

“I stand for God’s definition of family, God’s definition of procreation. This goes outside of God’s plan,” Benfield said.

Arnold said the legislation sets up protections for those involved given that the practice is legal today.

“We are not making it legal,” agreed state Rep. Raymond Garofalo, R-Chalmette. “We are regulating a procedure already occurring.”

Benfield said she would prefer seeing the practice outlawed.

Rob Tasman, associate director of the Louisiana Conference of Catholic Bishops, said the practice “commoditizes women … She’s just an oven, someone who can produce a product.”

Tasman said the bishops are also concerned from an anti-abortion perspective about the potential “destruction of those embryos” who may not be wanted.

“Adoption puts the interest of the child first. This puts the best interest of the adults first,” Tasman said.

Voting for regulating married couples’ use of surrogates to have their biological children: state Reps. Nancy Landry, R-Lafayette; Jeff Arnold, D-New Orleans; John Bel Edwards, D-Amite; Raymond Garofalo, R-Chalmette; Randall Gaines, D-LaPlace; Patrick Jefferson, D-Homer; Gregory Miller, R-Norco; Clay Schexnayder, R-Sorrento; and Alfred Williams, D-Baton Rouge.

Voting against SB162: state Rep. Mike Huval, R-Breaux Bridge.