When Rep. Jamie Pedersen's triplets were born, he was driving from Seattle to San Diego, where the surrogate mother lived.
“If the surrogate had been in Seattle, it wouldn’t have been a problem,” said the Democratic legislator from Seattle.
But because Washington law makes it illegal to pay a woman for acting as a surrogate, some couples pay a woman under the table or go out of state to find one willing to carry their child.
Pedersen wants to change that, and he’s introduced a measure to make it legal to pay a surrogate. The bill establishes a host of protections to ensure surrogacy contracts would be made with informed consent and safeguards for both the birthmother and the intended parents.
The House approved the bill 57-41 this month after contentious debate. Now it’s the Senate’s turn to consider it.
A hearing before the Senate government operations committee Tuesday attracted a large crowd, including some opponents of the measure who wore stickers that said “not for sale,” and samesex and heterosexual couples who testified in favor.
“Babies and pregnancy have always been considered by society as sacrosanct and important. Commercial surrogacy puts a price on buying and selling babies, just like goods and other services,” said Gary Randall, president of the Faith and Freedom Network in Washington.
Supporters say the bill would make starting a family legally easier for both same-sex and heterosexual couples. But some conservative faith-based groups say it would encourage “selling babies” and the exploitation of women, while helping advance gay marriage.
Paying for surrogacy is allowed in only a handful of states. In Washington, people can pay for surrogates’ expenses — everything from medical bills to maternity clothes — but direct compensation for surrogacy is a criminal offense.
Legal Voice, a women’s rights group in Seattle, argues the bill would bring a safety net to a practice that is already occurring in a vastly unregulated way.
Women are acting as surrogates with no protection of their interests, said Sara Ainsworth, senior counsel with Legal Voice.
“We think that’s really, really troubling,” she said.
Pedersen’s bill lays out a long list of requirements for a woman to enter a surrogacy contract, including legal representation and substantial health insurance. She must also undergo mental health counseling before signing.
Women would not be permitted to be compensated for being surrogates more than twice.