PIERRE | The South Dakota House on Thursday passed a bill that would criminalize agents who facilitate commercial surrogate pregnancies in the state.
The proposal would make acting as a surrogacy agent a misdemeanor punishable by up to a year in jail. It also calls for the Legislature to study the issue over the next year.
The bill aims to make South Dakota one of a handful of states to ban commercial surrogacy contracts. It will next be considered by the Senate.
A few Republicans split with their party to vote against the bill. Several were concerned that it would have unintended consequences on altruistic surrogacies.
Rep. Jon Hansen, the Dell Rapids Republican who introduced the bill, argued that without regulations on such contracts, the door is open to abuse.
“The custody of human beings should never be determined by a commercial contract,” he said.
The bill exempts “altruistic" surrogate pregnancies and allows for the surrogate and child's health care costs to be covered, according to Hansen.
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Hansen noted that when it comes to adoption, there are laws that oversee the process to protect children. He argued that surrogacy contracts could be used to pressure a surrogate to get an abortion if the parents decided they didn't want the pregnancy to proceed.
Opponents disagreed, saying that surrogacy contracts actually protect women.
Emilee Gheling said her agency, Dakota Surrogacy, is the only surrogacy agency she knows of in the state and that the bill targets it. She said she runs the agency to protect parents, surrogates and children. She conducts psychological screenings, health tests and a legal process to protect everyone involved.
Gheling estimated that there are only a handful of surrogacies in South Dakota every year. She gathered at the Capitol with a group of women who have been surrogates, have had children through surrogacy, or are working to find a surrogate.
The women said a community of families involved with surrogacy has developed in the state that is centered around creating children. They said surrogacy is sometimes the only option that parents have for a child due to the expense and complications that can arise from adoption.
The women said they were open to regulation of the issue, but that the bill had too many flaws. It would go into effect on July 1 if passed, halting surrogacy plans for some families.
“They still chose to move forward with a piece of legislation that they admit has many issues,"said Lisa Rahja, who had a child through surrogacy. “They don’t want to take the time that creates the best solution.”
The women also feared the proposed law could push surrogacies underground. They argued that people desperate to start a family would go to places like Facebook or Craigslist to find surrogates. Gheling noted that people can seek surrogacies out of state, but the proposed law could create complications with that because it also nulls surrogacy contracts in South Dakota.
Gheling said parents typically pay a surrogate $15,000 to $25,000 to compensate her for the pain and discomfort of pregnancy.