Jindal vetoes surrogacy birth bill

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Gov. Bobby Jindal sided with conservative groups Friday and vetoed a bill that would have created a new legal and regulatory framework for surrogacy births in Louisiana.

Lawmakers had overwhelmingly voted to support the proposal by state Sen. Gary Smith, D-Norco, who has two children with his wife through surrogacy. But religious groups raised ethical and moral concerns about surrogacy, the arrangement when a woman carries a child to birth for another person or a couple.

In his veto letter, the Republican governor said questions about surrogacy weren’t studied enough, and he noted the “serious concerns” raised by the conservative Louisiana Family Forum, the Louisiana Conference of Catholic Bishops and other social conservative groups.

“Creating a state sanctioned regulatory structure for contracts pertaining to the birth of children has a profound impact on the traditional beginnings of the family and is an important topic worthy of heightened scrutiny and consensus,” wrote Jindal.

“Given the range of opposition, I am not satisfied that the questions and concerns … have been sufficiently studied and thoroughly debated by the legislature at this time,” he said.

Louisiana law currently has few regulations governing surrogacy, and Jindal’s action ironically has the effect of keeping lawmakers from restricting aspects of a practice opposed by conservative groups.

Backers of Smith’s bill said surrogacy births were taking place without clear guidelines on the legal rights of parents, the surrogate or the child.

They said the bill was written in consultation with judges, lawyers, experts in family law and theologians, after lengthy study by the Louisiana Law Institute, which reviews legal issues for lawmakers.

The final version of the legislation was backed 85-12 in the House and 32-3 in the Senate.

The bill would have placed limits on surrogacy that don’t currently exist, including spelling out that a surrogate only could be allowed for a married couple, consisting of a man and a woman, who can’t otherwise have a biological child.

It also would have described who could be a surrogate and banned any payments for carrying the child, except for medical and legal expenses related to the pregnancy.

Anti-abortion groups and religious organizations saw the bill as legitimizing surrogacy and in-vitro fertilization that they said can cause the destruction of embryos.

The Louisiana Family Forum said surrogacy radically redefines the family and makes a woman’s body a commodity to be rented. The Louisiana Conference of Catholic Bishops called it “an attack on the life of embryos.”

Smith didn’t immediately return a call for comment Friday.

Gene Mills, president of the Louisiana Family Forum, issued a statement thanking the governor for his veto.

“Gov. Bobby Jindal has once again demonstrated his strong commitment to the sanctity of all human life and the integrity of the traditional family,” Mills said.

Jindal has vetoed seven bills so far from the legislative session that ended earlier this month.

Lawmakers could seek to overturn the vetoes in a legislative session, but that appears unlikely. Lawmakers have not held a veto session since the current Louisiana Constitution was enacted four decades ago.

Among other vetoes released Friday, the governor rejected bills that would have:

• Created a new exception to the state ethics code, allowing a member of a local governing authority in a town with 5,000 residents or less to do business with people who have contracts with the town. Jindal vetoed the same proposal last year, saying he saw no reason for the exception.

• Required the state transportation department to ask federal officials to let Louisiana issue bilingual highway signs. Jindal said he supported allowing the signs to include French, “a language with which Louisiana has a long and standing cultural history,” but he disagreed with allowing signs to include other languages. He issued an executive order asking the transportation department to follow the bill’s approach, but with restrictions that bilingual signs could only include French.

• Required the state to pay New Orleans for local fire and law enforcement services it provides to the land-based casino, which generates tax dollars for the state treasury. Jindal has vetoed the bill three times, though he’s agreed to pay the money through the budget.

• Diverted tax dollars to a local real estate development in Baton Rouge. The governor vetoed a similar bill last year.

• Given new bonding authority to the New Orleans convention center.