Education bills top agenda Wednesday _lowres

Advocate staff photo by TRAVIS SPRADLING -- Louisiana Capitol Building.

For the second year in a row, Gov. Bobby Jindal has vetoed legislation that sought to set up a legal framework for surrogacy births in Louisiana.

Jindal announced the veto Saturday, three days before the end of the legislative session. His chief of staff, Kyle Plotkin, delivered the news by phone Saturday morning to state Sen. Gary Smith, who co-sponsored the legislation.

The governor, in his veto message, wrote that “despite the good intentions and hard efforts of the author, this legislation still raises concerns for many in the pro-life community.” He said he couldn’t “in good conscience, sign this bill.”

With his veto, Jindal killed legislation that attempted to give parents legal protection when they turn to a surrogate to carry their biological children. The bill’s sponsors — a state senator and a state representative whose wives grappled with reproduction issues — made a number of concessions without ever garnering the governor’s support.

For Smith, D-Norco, the surrogacy bill’s co-sponsor, it was a day of vetoes. The governor vetoed two other bills Smith sponsored. Smith said the surrogacy veto was the one that shocked him.

Smith angrily accused the governor of pandering to national anti-abortion organizations in advancement of his political ambitions. Some legislators have remarked on the governor’s out-of-state travels — often to raise money for his national nonprofit group — during the legislative session.

“He knows that he should’ve let this go into law,” Smith said. “When’s Bobby going to come home? When is he going to pay attention to Louisiana’s needs and Louisiana’s wants instead of the misinformed notions of people outside Louisiana?”

Opposition to the bill, however, could be found inside Louisiana even though the legislation breezed through the House and the Senate. Louisiana Family Forum, which had declared itself neutral on the bill, asked the governor to veto it. Anti-abortion interests, including the Catholic Church, never embraced the proposal.

The Legislature dispensed with one huge issue for conservatives the first year of debate on the surrogacy proposal by excluding gay couples from qualifying for the legal framework. Courts would recognize surrogate contracts only involving couples whose marriages are recognized under Louisiana law — in other words, the union between a man and a woman.

Another concession was to require a doctor to deem the surrogacy a medical necessity — nixing the possibility of a woman turning to a surrogate out of convenience or vanity.

An insurmountable obstacle remained: Surrogacy and in vitro fertilization are intertwined, raising the question of what would happen to excess embryos generated to foster the successful creation of a child.

Louisiana Family Forum, which casts itself as the voice for traditional families, expressed neutrality after a compromise was reached to criminalize financial compensation other than medical, legal and travel expenses for the surrogacy. After the bill went to the governor’s desk, Louisiana Family Forum apparently had second thoughts.

The group’s leader, Gene Mills, told Jindal in a letter that the legislation would not prohibit doctors from creating or implanting multiple embryos into the surrogate’s womb and then selectively destroying them to prevent a multiple birth.

“Governor Jindal, I caution you to consider the unresolved conflict that remains with the common IVF practice of fetal selective reduction. I referred in committee to a ‘bridge too far,’ and this instrument, though dramatically improved, is that bridge. My personal conviction is that I cannot, in good conscience, advise you to sign this bill,” Mills wrote.

Smith said he was thunderstruck by Mills’ letter. “It’s a good piece of legislation, even with all the compromises in it. It would help families here in Louisiana, couples in Louisiana, who want to have their own biological children,” Smith said.

Jindal wrote in his veto letter that his heart goes out to couples who struggle with miscarriages and infertility. “All Louisianians are at liberty today to engage in informal agreements regarding surrogacy — this is simply a question of whether we ought to codify and regulate such agreements, and if so, what these regulations ought to entail,” he wrote.

Surrogacy births — in which a couple’s embryo is implanted in another woman — are not illegal in Louisiana.

The contracts between the surrogate and the parents just aren’t enforceable in the state’s courts, leading to many couples going out of state rather than risk a legal battle in uncharted waters.

Jindal vetoed similar legislation last year. House Bill 187 seemed to have a smoother journey through the Legislature this year after the legislation’s sponsors reached a compromise early in the session with some of the opponents. However, that compromise apparently fell apart.

The Catholic Church was steadfast in its opposition to the legislation because of its stance on in vitro fertilization.

The surrogacy legislation had its genesis in the struggles of Smith and his wife, Katherine, to become parents. Smith and his wife turned to out-of-state surrogates after discovering Katherine could not carry children.

The Smiths eventually had two children through surrogacy, going outside Louisiana each time to a state with a legal framework for the arrangement. Their son and daughter are their biological children.

Sen. Smith sponsored legislation last year to make it easier for married couples to use surrogates in Louisiana. Helping him with the legislation this year was state Rep. Joseph Lopinto, R-Metairie. Lopinto and his wife, Lauren, also struggled to have children. They eventually had twins through in vitro fertilization. They did not use a surrogate.

Smith said time remains in the session to override the governor’s veto. A veto override requires 70 votes in the House and 26 votes in the Senate.