SB126: Bill to limit surrogate births stalls in committee

SB126 would repeal current laws that provide protections and regulations for individuals involved in surrogate births. (AP photo)

SALT LAKE CITY — Lawmakers appeared to be swayed by Utah families — many with babes in arms — who urged lawmakers to reject changes to Utah’s surrogate birth laws.

SB126, which would repeal protections and requirements for surrogate births in Utah, was stalled in committee on Feb. 7. The bill’s sponsor, Sen. Lyle Hillyard, R-Logan, sponsored legislation passed in 2005 making surrogate birth legal in Utah under certain conditions.

Hillyard is sponsoring SB126 to repeal specifications and protections for surrogate births. Hillyard said he sponsored surrogacy legislation in 2005 with the intent to repeal it if expanded.

“The purpose of the bill is to bring us back to square one,” Hillyard said. “This bill will not make surrogacy illegal like it was before.”

Prior to 2005, surrogacy was defined as a class A misdemeanor. Individuals participating in surrogate pregnancies did so illegally or went out of state.

Surrogate mothers would carry and give birth to a couple’s biological child, then file adoption papers to give the child up to its biological parents.

Hillyard’s 2005 bill, SB14 Uniform Parentage Act, allowed married heterosexual couples to create legal agreements to have surrogate births.

Law currently requires a surrogate mother to be at least 21 years of age, declared medically capable of carrying a child and have had a previous birth.

Parents and surrogate mothers create an agreement which is validated by a court and carried on until birth.

The law provides specific requirements for individuals participating in surrogacy, including counseling for both biological parents and surrogate mother. Surrogate mothers may be compensated for carrying a child, and biological parents are required to pay medical costs for the pregnancy and birth.

Hillyard said 86 surrogate birth agreements occurred in Utah last year.

While SB126 would not make surrogate births illegal, it would repeal the legal specifications and requirements which regulate agreements between surrogate mothers and biological parents.

Abby Cox, wife of Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox, said SB126 would harm Utah families.

“The act that this bill would repeal would remove critical protections for many Utah families,” Cox said.

Cox served as a gestational carrier in 2011 for her sister who is unable to carry children for medical reasons.

The surrogate birth law process provided the Cox family direction and comfort, Cox said.

“This contract was in place and we were able to know the process from the beginning to the end,” Cox said. “That ended up being a very emotionally stabilizing thing for me as a gestational carrier.”

Cox said removing protections for families participating in surrogate births would be a huge mistake.

Kristen and Rex Jolley attended the senate committee meeting, opposing SB126. The Jolleys’ son, now age one, was carried by a surrogate mother.

“We ask you to oppose SB126. We ask that you leave the law as is,” Kristen Jolley said. “We need to ensure that this process goes as planned one hundred percent of the time … this process cannot fail.”

The current structure of law provided the Jolley family peace during the emotionally challenging process of having a surrogate mother carry their child, Kristen Jolley said.

Many others spoke against SB126 during the committee meeting. Many shared their stories of welcoming children into their families through surrogate pregnancies and showed family pictures.

Attorney Joseph Cottle from Cannon Law Group spoke in support of current surrogate laws.

Chante Engh holds her son Ephraim outside the Senate Health and Human Services Committee meeting Feb. 7. Ephraim was carried by a surrogate mother. (Katie Harris)

“The judicial oversight that the current law provides is necessary,” Cottle said. “Repealing the law, while it may not make gestational agreements illegal, it would create such uncertainty that it would create unnecessary chaos and cause additional turmoil for people that are already struggling.”

For Chante Engh, surrogacy laws have provided a way to have biological children. Engh is a two-time cancer survivor. Her son Ephraim was carried by a surrogate mother.

“I would like to ask you to please protect my path to motherhood,” Engh said, addressing the committee. “Vote no on SB126. Keep the surrogacy protections for families like us.”

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