The Virginia House of Delegates passed a bill on Tuesday that would redefine parenthood in the state by updating the laws on assisted reproduction.
The measure, which passed 61-36 in the Republican-majority House, strips language like “mother” and “father” from the statute, makes “intent” the basis of a legal parentage instead of genetics, and claims embryos are the property of an intended parent, regardless of any biological relation. The updates bolster the gestational surrogacy market in the state, something pro-family advocates argue is bad for Virginia and especially bad for children in the state.
The bill “threatens to open up Pandora’s box on critical matters involving life, parental rights, and the most basic ideas of what it means to be a family,” said Victoria Cobb, president of The Family Foundation, a Virginia-based family advocacy group.
Laws governing conception, parental rights, and reproductive technology vary widely by state. Some states allow anyone who can afford it to purchase eggs, sperm, or the services of a surrogate. A few states forbid all surrogacy arrangements. Most are somewhere in the middle, with laws regulating the market for assisted conception methods such as in vitro fertilization, artificial insemination, and surrogacy.
Current Virginia law allows for gestational surrogacy but stipulates the intended parents must be a married couple. The proposed bill would open the door to any person or persons—married or single, man or woman, homosexual or heterosexual—to use a surrogate and to be granted full parental rights to the resulting child. Cobb said a handful of Republicans voted with the Democrats on the measure because they thought the bill was pro-life—they believed that it would allow more couples to adopt frozen embryos. The Virginia House sent the bill to the Senate, where it awaits a committee hearing.
Katy Faust, the founder and director of Them Before Us, a group that advocates for the rights of children in social policies, called the proposed law deeply problematic because it is adult-centric. She told me it pays no heed to the rights and needs of the people it primarily affects: children.
“What that practically means is that children are just commodities that can be cut and pasted into any and every household arrangement,” said Faust, who believes children have a right to both biological parents, if at all possible. “That adults have a right to children regardless of a biological connection. … That just means that children go to whoever can acquire them.”
The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, the most widely ratified human rights treaty in the world, states, “The child shall … have the right from birth to a name, the right to acquire a nationality, and, as far as possible, the right to know and be cared for by his or her parents.” Faust personally believes that God’s created order and His design establishes children’s fundamental right to be raised in homes with a married mother and father.
“When those rights are respected and protected, it sets [children] up for thriving,” she said, noting that research continues to show that when children lose a relationship with one or both biological parents, they fall into a predictable pattern of risk.
Today, more than ever before, donor-conceived children are going to intentionally fatherless or motherless homes. The Donor Sibling Registry is an organization with more than 62,000 members seeking to match donor-conceived individuals with their biological relatives. Of the organization’s parents and donors, 49 percent are single mothers by choice who use donor sperm, and 33 percent are same-sex couples who use either donor sperm, donor eggs, or both.