The Pope Is Battling to Ban Surrogacy Worldwide — and This US State Is at the Front Line

A bill aimed at legalizing surrogacy contracts is advancing through the Michigan Legislature.

The House of Representatives chamber at the Michigan State Capitol Building in Lansing
The House of Representatives chamber at the Michigan State Capitol Building in Lansing (photo: Dennis MacDonald / Shutterstock)

Commercial surrogacy is among the bills the Michigan Legislature is expected to take up in this term, which began yesterday. Among the few states still banning paid surrogacy, legislation introducing the commercial buying and selling of babies passed the Michigan House Nov. 9 by a 56-53 vote. Rebecca Mastee, a policy advocate for the Michigan Catholic Conference (MCC) in Lansing, spoke to the Register about the situation.

Register: What is the position of the MCC on the surrogacy bill, and why do you hold that position?

Mastee: MCC is opposed to legislation that would commercialize surrogacy in Michigan by allowing surrogacy contracts and compensation. Despite opposing this legislation, MCC acknowledges the suffering of husbands and wives who experience infertility and recognizes that ethical infertility care could better be promoted and the adoption process could be improved. Further, it is also vitally important to always recognize the inherent dignity of each and every person regardless of the circumstances of that person’s birth.

While altruistic surrogacy is legal in Michigan, this legislation would permit contracts and compensation for surrogacy, which would commercialize a practice that currently tends to take place between close friends or family. In addition to having concerns with surrogacy in general, MCC believes this shift in the law would multiply social, moral and legal problems. This includes a greater risk of exploitation of vulnerable women who become surrogates as well as increased risks to the lives and health of surrogate mothers and children.

Unfortunately, it is common for the surrogate, as birth mother, to be taken advantage of, both emotionally and legally. Emerging evidence has also shown health risks due to more complicated pregnancies occurring in surrogate pregnancies than with non-surrogate pregnancies, posing a threat to both the life and the health of the surrogate mother and the baby.

Further, it should not be forgotten that discussion of this issue involves the creation of a contract for a human being. While the Church recognizes that a child is the manifest presence of the committed love in marriage between a mother and father, surrogacy displaces the significant prenatal connection between the child and the child’s birth mother.

What is your message to the State Senate as it takes it up? To Catholics around Michigan as their Legislature addresses this?

This legislation would legalize surrogacy contracts and compensation and commercialize the practice in Michigan, resulting in a new surrogacy industry in this state. Without accountability for the inevitable rise of advertising, recruiting, surrogacy brokers, agencies and attorneys that connect intended parents with surrogates, a lack of regulation further opens the door to exploitative practices that have already happened in other U.S. states and other countries where commercial surrogacy is present.

For instance, two surrogacy attorneys in California were criminally convicted for selling babies, having created a “baby-selling ring,” and deceiving both the courts and prospective parents. With the use of surrogates, they sold unborn babies for over $100,000 each.

Beyond our country, the international community largely recognizes surrogacy as a human rights violation, calling for special concern to protect children from trafficking and abuse and to prevent the sale of children through commercial surrogacy. The European Union has called for surrogacy to be prohibited, and a United Nations report has said that commercial surrogacy “often involves abusive practices.”

Pope Francis also recently called for surrogacy to be universally prohibited, while advocating that “the path to peace calls for respect for life, for every human life ...” The Pontiff noted that “a child is always a gift and never the basis of a commercial contract” and expressed concern that surrogacy “represents a grave violation of the dignity of the woman and the child.”

Amidst the discussion to commercialize surrogacy, there remain thousands of Michigan children yearning for foster and adoptive families. There is more work that can be done to promote adoption as an alternative path to parenthood. Providing families for all children should be the focus by encouraging and improving the adoption process to protect and provide security for existing children in need. Many Catholic Charities agencies throughout the state specialize in both infant and foster care adoption.

What has the Conference said about the corollary issues that come up with surrogacy, e.g., the status and disposition of multiple fertilized ova that are not implanted, the exploitation of the surrogate, etc.?

Surrogacy, along with other assisted reproduction technologies, often introduces eugenic practices into screening human embryos prior to their transfer to a womb by choosing who is “fit for life” and who will be destroyed in their early stage of life.

The bill appears to set up a power imbalance between the two parties in the creation of the contract, by requiring the intended parent or parents to pay for the surrogate’s legal representation specific to her agreeing to the contract and understanding its terms.

While House Bill 5207 attempts to “permit the surrogate to make all health and welfare decisions regarding … the pregnancy …” nothing in the legislation prevents abortion/termination or selective/fetal reduction clauses from being inserted into surrogacy contracts, and financial incentives or penalties linked to such clauses are not explicitly prohibited.

An “abortion clause” or “termination clause” is often used in surrogacy contracts to prescribe the circumstances in which the intended parents could request the “termination of the pregnancy” and that the baby be aborted.

Similarly, “selective reduction” or “fetal reduction” clauses can dictate when twins, triplets or other multiples are conceived but only a single baby or twins are desired, leading the intended parents to request aborting the additional babies who are not desired.

Other items of concern include the significant changes House Bills 5207-5215 propose to the state’s family and parentage laws. Current law finds parentage through birth, genetics, or adoption by a married couple or a single individual. However, as currently written, these bills would allow individuals — with no guidelines for their relationship or even a requirement they share a household — to consent or contract to intentionally create a child.

In other words, essentially any two people could agree that they intend to parent a child through assisted reproduction or a surrogacy contract, regardless of the individuals’ relationships to each other or to the child.

The bills would also enshrine posthumous conception into Michigan law — intentionally creating a child after one or more of their parents have died.

With the significant concerns that commercial surrogacy and its contracts pose, MCC encourages the Michigan legislature to instead consider promoting adoption and amending its processes to aid those longing to become parents.

Edward Okuń, “Judas,” 1901

Hell Is Real (Jan. 27)

Pope Francis recently called on the international community to ban surrogate pregnancy. His words are a welcome source of support for pro-life advocates in Michigan, which is about to become ‘one of the most surrogacy-friendly jurisdictions in the world.’ That’s what Genevieve Marnon, legislative director of Right to Life of Michigan, told the Register. Genevieve joins us today. But first, we turn to another topic Pope Francis recently talked about, and one that most of us don’t like to think about: the reality of Hell. Father Jeffery Kirby joins us now.