In Washington state, surrogate mothers are hard to find. When Sharon LaMothe counsels infertile couples who have found surrogacy to be their last hope for a genetic child of their own, she wishes she could match them with a surrogate mother. Because of current state laws, however, the best she can tell them is either to find a friend or family member who’s willing to carry their child or to work with an agency in another state.
That could soon change. A bill that recently passed the House would make it legal for women in Washington to be paid for carrying another couple’s child — something that could currently saddle them with a misdemeanor.
The bill, which is now before the Senate, would allow women to be paid to act only as gestational surrogates, meaning they would have no genetic link to the child they carry.
LaMothe counsels surrogacy agencies across the United States through LaMothe Services and has been a gestational surrogate herself twice. She testified before the Senate last week on why she believes paid surrogacy should be legal in Washington.
“Surrogates want to help the intended parents,” she says. “There should be nothing illegal about that.”
She says that if the bill passes, agencies could match intended parents with surrogate mothers in Washington, making surrogacy more accessible to everyone.
Rep. Lynn Kessler (D- Hoquiam), the bill’s chief sponsor, says the bill was prompted by stories of infertile parents in Washington who wished that current laws would give them more options. “It was really brought to us by the childless parents who wanted to have children,” she says. “Some couldn’t afford to travel and some could but thought they shouldn’t have to.”
Kessler adds that prospective parents also expressed a desire to have a surrogate in the state so they could be close to her throughout the pregnancy.
Rep. Maralyn Chase, another sponsor of the bill, says she was saddened to hear of couples who were forced to travel to places such as California to find surrogates. “That restricts the joy of having children to people who have a lot of money,” she says.
Melanie Mikkelsen, an infertility counselor at Spokane’s Center for Reproductive Health , says that the handful of surrogate mothers she sees each year carry others’ children not for profit but as favors to friends, family members or acquaintances. Currently these surrogates can legally have their medical expenses covered by the parents but nothing more.
Mikkelsen says finding an unpaid surrogate in Washington, rather than leaving the state, has proven to be difficult for many couples. “Oftentimes people have to be creative in the way they go about finding someone and tap into resources they hadn’t thought about before,” she says.
Mikkelsen adds that more local women would certainly become surrogate mothers if pay was involved, but that compensation could also complicate surrogacy. “I think the flipside is you run the risk for more coercion to take place,” she says. “Maybe people who are in financial straits or hard times would choose to do it because they think it’s the only way they can make money.”
Rep. Kessler believes the many safeguards included in the bill should protect it from exploitation. “It’s not fast money,” she says.
Under the bill, an intended mother must pass a physical and mental health evaluation and have health insurance. She must have given birth before and could not act as a paid surrogate more than twice.
Donna Robertson, a counselor at the Center for Surrogate Parenting in Los Angeles, works with paid surrogates in California, Oregon, Nevada and Texas. She has matched parents in Washington with surrogates in others states and is happy to hear that surrogacy laws may be changing in Washington. “Many parents I talk to would never dream of asking a surrogate mother not to get paid,” she says. “It’s not about the money, but at the same time, it’s a tangible gift back that she can share with her own family.”