(by Joseph R. LaPlante, OSV Newsweekly)
“Never the twain shall meet” can rightly stand as the motto of public debate in America for the last 20 years, with opposing sides to nearly every issue hunkering down without cooperation or compromise, be it in politics or the culture at large. Opposite sides seemingly have adopted Winston Churchill’s admonition: “Never give in. Never, never, never, never — in nothing great or small, large or petty — never give in …”
And then comes the legislative battle in Minnesota, where Catholics locked arms with a member of the executive board of the National Organization for Women to defeat legislation that would have legalized and regulated a burgeoning industry that both sides abhor: commercial surrogacy. The legislation would create a commercial surrogacy business in Minnesota with regulations that would make legal the buying and selling of children between two contracting parties.
“We recognized we might not agree on some things,” said Jason Adkins, executive director of the Minnesota Catholic Conference, but Catholics and other opponents agreed that the new industry is wrong for women and children.
The two sides also recognized the value “of building a bridge,” Adkins said. “That is an important role for the Church.”
Kathleen Sloan of NOW, whose credentials in the organization date to its earliest days and who heads a branch in Connecticut, has worked in numerous states against the profitable industry of women renting out their wombs for nine months for a fee to give birth to children for couples who cannot conceive — including same-sex couples, single parents and couples looking for a designer baby.
Sloan has joined with social conservatives, Catholic advocacy groups and human rights groups who are staunchly opposed to her stance on same-sex unions, abortion and other issues.
“This has been an absolutely conflict-free working relationship,” Sloan said of her alliance with the Minnesota Catholic Conference and its legislative lobbyist Kathryn Mollen. “We agree to disagree on abortion (and other social issues). I respect her religious convictions, and she respects my feminist stances.”
Sloan has been involved in reaching across the aisle on other issues: In California, she helped forge a coalition to fight legislation that would pay women to donate fertilized eggs for research.
Sloan made three trips to Minnesota this year, the second consecutive year she joined a successful battle to kill the legislation. She also helped defeat similar legislation in New Jersey. Similar bills are under consideration in New York, Louisiana and Washington, D.C.
The unsuccessful Minnesota legislation would have established regulations for the industry in addition to granting judicial authority to determine the validity of surrogacy contracts in child-custody cases.
Mollen said she values Sloan’s support and hard work that helped stymie two bills from reaching the floor in the Minnesota state legislature, killing the bills for the 2014 session. But she also knows there can be a price paid for working with the other side.
“She has been facing some opposition because of her stance on surrogacy. The feminist community (like the Christian community) is split on this issue, at least in the U.S.,” Mollen said of Sloan. “Nationally, a lot of progressive feminists with similar views to Kathy’s are very anti-surrogacy. The commercial practice is banned in most places in Europe and Canada because it is seen as commodification of women. Kathy is also a wealth of information, and has been a great resource for us.”
Sloan has traveled the country with filmmaker Jennifer Lahl of the Center for Bioethics and Culture, who has produced a three-part series that exposes the underside of the commercial baby-making business, one which profits lawyers and surrogacy companies.
When Sloan has presented one of Lahl’s films, she contends she has changed the hearts and minds of some NOW members but drawn the ire of others who fear that limits on surrogacy could lead to a slippery slope, in their view, that would lead to limits on access to abortions.
“They erroneously associate abortion with third-party surrogacy,” Sloan told Our Sunday Visitor. Sloan said there is a fear that eliminating surrogacy-for-pay will lead to a fetus being legally defined and thus the beginning of the erosion of legal abortion in America.
Sloan is an active advocate for same-sex marriage and has attempted to call political favors from the gay community to fight commercial surrogacy.
“I have tried to engender a dialogue with them, but they will not respond,” Sloan said. “I have said to them that by not opposing commercial surrogacy they are willing to throw women under the bus. You can’t advance the rights of one group against the loss of rights of another group.”
The truth of the expression “politics makes strange bedfellows” is alive and well in the debate.
“Sometimes we need to get outside our silos,” Adkins said. “It is another instance of building the network (of opposition to commercial surrogacy). The national coalition is growing.”
Adkins is not surprised by the normally adversarial parties finding common ground on the issue.
“There is a lot of overlap between feminism and John Paul II’s Theology of the Body,” Adkins said. The respect that the new saint confers upon women and their creative natures is destroyed by what Sloan and Adkins called the commodification and exploitation of women. Additionally, they contend that commercial surrogacy poses real health risks to women, makes children a marketable commodity and creates a breeder class of women marginalized by poverty for upper-class and gay couples.
Sloan foresees an uphill fight for opponents of the commercial surrogacy market in the United States. “The fertility industry has targeted the gay community as its next big market; they are seeing big dollar signs,” Sloan said.
Joseph LaPlante writes from Rhode Island.