Assisted Conception Option For The New Realities

Rick Olson, Jay Timmons and children at their McLean home.

A major revision of Virginia’s assisted conception laws has fought its way through to a final vote in the State Senate Monday, pushed by a former Virginia official who has gone public with his unconventional and very 21st century family.

Jay Timmons and his husband Rick Olson faced a major legal battle in Wisconsin a few years back over the surrogacy agreement they had with the mother of their third child.  The child was conceived using a frozen embryo from a couple that had used a similar method to build a family of four, didn’t want to use the remaining embryos themselves, but also didn’t want them destroyed.  

The Virginia couple went to Wisconsin to contract with the surrogate mother in part because Virginia law is written to allow surrogacy only for traditional married couples, a man and woman.  Then approval of their arrangement landed in front of a Wisconsin judge who clearly hated the idea and forced an expensive appeal process.  Here is a quote from the judge used in a piece on their case in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: “Can any such arrangement be made without violating human trafficking laws?”

His ruling was reversed.  But similar heated complaints are being raised as Timmons’ advocates for House Bill 1979, which amends Virginia’s surrogacy law to allow for its use by same sex couples and single parents, already recognized as candidates for adoptions.  It also addresses the legal status of the embryo used, and the very word “ownership” has become a source of controversy.

Timmons was Governor George Allen’s Chief of Staff, served on Allen’s Washington staff, and is now leader of the National Association of Manufacturers.  That group swings a reasonably big bat around the Capitol, and Timmons has brought some of his public relations savvy into this struggle, using Facebook and texting technology to reach out to legislators.

It has been a struggle, with opposition in committee and on the floors driven by groups like the Catholics and the Family Foundation.  The Family Foundation complains, among other things, that it will encourage more frozen embryos “most of which will be forever frozen or destroyed.” It calls them “lab babies” and worries it will create commercial markets.  It hates the gender-neutral language.

The bill passed the House 61-36, with Democrats united in support and Republicans divided.  It was amended and then reported by the Senate Courts of Justice Committee 9-6.

You can see the issues well with just this extract from the Senate substitute:

“Intended parents parent” means a man and a woman, married to each other, couple or unmarried individual who enter enters into an agreement with a surrogate under the terms of which they such parent will be the parents parent of any child born to the surrogate through assisted conception regardless of the genetic relationships between the intended parents parent, the surrogate, and the child.

And this:  “Legal or contractual custody” means having authority granted by law, contract, or court order to make decisions concerning the use of an embryo.

Timmons has circulated his written testimony from the Senate committee hearing, trying to answer some of the concerns which have been raised.  Yes, the bill creates a presumption for parenthood without any biological connection, but isn’t that the same with most adoptions?  Yes, it grants this option to single parents, but are there not already millions of single parents, many of them doing a marvelous job?  Cannot they already be cleared to adopt?

And, of course, he notes the deepest objection, in a culture still not fully comfortable with the growing number of same-sex marriages.  There the Supreme Court has made several decisions that ultimately Virginia must follow.  It is now incumbent on the rest of us (and it will take time and patience) to just get used to it.  The rear-guard action from some will fail, and should.

For those of us who will admit deep misgivings years ago over such marriages, the family life being built around many of them is proof they are the real thing.  Timmons and Olson wanted to raise children in their marriage and are doing so.  Virginia law should treat them the same as anyone else.

Despite the deep taboo, the record shows that these children have at least the same chances for success and happiness as children raised with heterosexual parents, or a single heterosexual parent.  And with all the ethical questions – deep, real and emotional ones – surrounding the practice of freezing and storing fertilized embryos, one highly ethical outcome must be birth into such a stable family.

“If we are successful in getting (this bill) passed, it will guarantee that no family in Virginia would have to endure the emotional and financial agony that our family went through,” Timmons wrote in an email seeking support Friday.  “We believe the judge’s message was very clear: our son, Jacob, who started as a frozen embryo that we rescued from potential destruction, should never have had a chance at Life.”

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5 responses to “Assisted Conception Option For The New Realities”

  1. Dick Hall-Sizemore Avatar
    Dick Hall-Sizemore

    Thanks for this post, Steve. There are so many interesting bills that don’t get major media attention.

  2. LarrytheG Avatar

    Fascinating and eye-opening. Thank you for the article! The world is changing whether we are ready for it or not and sounds like some are not!

  3. LarrytheG Avatar

    There’s a certain irony to some folks “creating” life from artificial embryos at the same time we have other folks embryos, unwanted, destroyed.

    1. Steve Haner Avatar
      Steve Haner

      Sorry, Larry, such pro-life sentiments will get you kicked out of the Democratic party. It is now a mandatory item of belief for them that a woman has a right to choose death even if the child is well-past the stage of full viability, and even after it has been delivered.

  4. djrippert Avatar

    Banning gay couples and single parents from becoming parents through surrogacy is wrong. However, banning lobbyists from doing the same seems quite reasonable. I am conflicted here.

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