Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Will Washington Allow the Sale of People?

A troubling bill that would allow the sale of children before they are conceived has passed the State House and awaiting a hearing in the Senate next week.

HB 1267 is an omnibus bill that makes significant changes to Washington’s parenting laws. It replaces the words “mother” and “father” with the word “parent”. It also grants non-biological parents, in some situations, parental rights without going through adoption processes if they are in domestic partnerships.

But the most troubling aspect of the bill is the provision to make Washington one of the few states that enforces surrogacy contracts. In essence, it would permit the formation of contracts in which a couple or individual could purchase a child from a woman prior to her pregnancy.

While surrogacy is not current illegal in Washington, surrogacy contracts are not enforced because the state does not currently believe it should put itself in a situation to forcibly remove a child from the woman who bore it because she took money prior to becoming pregnant.

Civilized societies have long believed that there are some things that money cannot buy. While a person can donate their organs, they cannot be purchased. So it has been with the womb and parental rights…until now?

Surrogacy is exceedingly rare. There are fewer than 600 surrogate births every year in the United States. The purpose of the bill is to expand the number of women willing to become surrogates. Ironically, this is precisely why it should never become law. When the motive behind surrogacy changes, the opportunity for abuse increases significantly.

Without surrogacy contracts, surrogacy happens only when the surrogate mother is giving something to someone. As with organ donation, significant sacrifices made in the name of love can be understood—even admired. That same sacrifice, made in the name of money, is unsettling at best and provides an incentive for a woman to make a decision she will likely come to regret.

Moreover, adding a financial transaction to the birth of a child all but guarantees significant human rights abuses. Under this bill, a surrogate who becomes pregnant will have only two choices: kill the child before it is born or give the child to the person that paid you. One need not be creative to imagine the inhumane circumstances that will result.

Are we really going to send police officers to take away a baby from its mother if she decides that those she previously took money from are not fit to raise her child? Are we really going to allow someone to go to court and make the argument that the child is theirs because “I paid for it…fair and square”?

In contract law, there is a concept called informed consent that must be present before a contract will be enforced. If you agree to purchase your neighbors car but he neglects to tell you that he has removed the engine and the wheels, that contract will not be enforced against you because you lacked relevant information necessary to make an informed decision.

So it is with pregnancy and motherhood. One of the reasons surrogacy contracts are not enforced in most states is that there is a general understanding that it is impossible for a woman who is not yet pregnant to have all the information necessary to give informed consent to such a contract.

This bill would make both the womb and the baby within it commercial property. Sadly, the woman would still retain the right to abort the child so the law would give more value to the womb itself than the child in it. Regardless, it would still give a person legal claim to another person because money changed hands. I thought we moved past this in the 1800’s.

If our elected officials pass this law and make surrogacy contracts enforceable, we, the people of Washington State, will be making the decision that there are circumstances in which we want the state to use its police powers to tell a pregnant women that her only legal options are to abort the child or give it to someone else.

Making matters even more Orwellian, the House rejected an amendment that would have required a surrogate mother to be a citizen of the United States. Perhaps we should establish a threshold now for how many poor (illegal?) immigrants would have to be taken advantage of by someone with money before the law is automatically revoked.

Given the risks, it is somewhat surprising that the bill has so much support. Fifty-three members of the State House signed on as sponsors of it. Fifty-seven members voted for its passage. Is there some kind of womb shortage that has left our civilization on the brink of extinction? Certainly not.

If people want a child this badly, perhaps the state should connect them with those who are already pregnant and “considering their options” rather than spending more than $7 million a year on abortions. Apparently, for many in the state legislature, it would be worse to encourage women who are already pregnant to give birth than to pay immigrants for their children.

Please contact your state Senators today and ask them to oppose HB 1267. They can be contacted through the Legislative Hotline at 1-800-562-6000. A public hearing for this bill has been scheduled in the Government Operations, Tribal Relations & Elections Committee for Tuesday, March 15th at 1:30 pm in Senate Hearing Room 2. You are urged to attend.
Please forward this to your friends as well. It matters.

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