Families that wish to have children by utilizing surrogacy agreements are currently prohibited by District Law, but there’s fresh hope thanks to a bill unanimously co-introduced last week by 11 sitting members of the D.C. Council, which seeks to put a legal framework in place.
The bill, known as the Collaborative Reproduction Amendment Act of 2015, establishes certain criteria or requirements for any “collaborative reproduction arrangements.” It seeks to establish a legal relationship between a child conceived or carried to term through a surrogacy agreement and its intended parents, whether or not they are married or whether or not they are biologically related to one or both parents. The measure, as introduced, reflects input from various community groups, including LGBT advocacy organizations such as the Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance (GLAA), the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), the Family Equality Council, and the National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR).
Under the bill, potential surrogates — who must be at least 21 years old and have given birth to at least one live child — will complete both medical and mental health evaluations before being approved as a surrogate. Intended parents must have, with their surrogate, completed a joint consultation with a mental health professional regarding any issues that could arise out of the surrogacy agreement, as well as guarantee to pay all “reasonable and ancillary expenses” related to carrying the child to term. The bill also puts in place additional safeguards for the child, the surrogate, and the intended parents, including a “character” provision that prohibits anyone convicted of a felony or misdemeanor involving “impunity of character or honest, including any action pertaining to fraud” from profiting, either directly or indirectly, from services related to recruiting, matching or providing other services to individuals interested in setting up surrogacy agreements. People who violate that provision may be fined or imprisoned for up to two years.
A similar bill was introduced by former Councilmember David Catania (I-At-Large) in 2013 and received a hearing before the Committee on the Judiciary and Public Safety, chaired by then-Councilmember Tommy Wells (D-Ward 6), who is now the director of the D.C. Department of the Environment for the Bowser administration. Judiciary Committee members heard hours of testimony during a June 2013 hearing on the bill, which attracted support from the LGBT community, former surrogates, and family law experts, among others, but also encountered harsh criticism and opposition by some women’s rights groups, which objected to the idea of surrogacy agreements that would compensate women for using their bodies to bear children for others. The bill wasn’t voted upon in 2013, and was never raised during 2014, an election year that saw both Catania and Wells, as well as fellow Councilmembers Bowser and Jack Evans, run for mayor.
For many advocates, both inside and outside of the LGBT community, D.C.’s laws governing surrogacy are significantly out of date, and need to be amended.
“Compared to the 50 states, District law is among the most restrictive with regard to surrogacy agreements, which is out of step with our commitment as a city to equality and family,” Councilmember Charles Allen (D-Ward 6) said in a statement after introducing the bill. “I believe surrogacy should be an option for District residents who wish to have children.”