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The Surrogacy Capital of the US:
Boise’s Unfortunate Reputation
Ana Brennan, J.D. | 12 December 2019
Recently, PBS aired the documentary, Made in Boise, which chronicles the experiences of four surrogates in Boise, Idaho. Of course, surrogacy is presented in glowing terms. In addition to promoting surrogacy in general, this documentary also draws attention to the fact Boise has become a very popular surrogacy destination. Intended parties come from all over the world to rent the wombs of women in Boise. There are seven surrogacy centers[i] in Boise, a city of about 230,000 (700,000 if you include the entire Treasure Valley).[ii] Surrogacy is big business in Boise, but why?
Surrogacy Laws in Idaho
The only law regulating surrogacy in Idaho requires a non-genetic intended party to formally adopt the child or children once they are born. That’s it. That is the only statute regulating surrogacy in Idaho. Additionally, the courts can be relied upon to uphold a surrogacy contract.[iii] There is very little legal risk to the intended parties in Idaho.
This still does not answer “why Boise?” Many states have surrogacy-friendly laws that are similar to Idaho. It is true surrogacy is cheaper in Idaho than other states, but there has to be more to it. Why is the fertility industry drawn to Boise, specifically?
Socio-economic Conditions in Boise
Made in Boise doesn’t really give a satisfactory answer as to why Boise is so ripe for surrogacy. Perusing surrogacy is cheaper in Boise for intended parties and there is a vague mention of the “community” in Boise. Additionally, in an interview, one of the creators of the documentary posited that Boise tends to be “out-dorsey” and promotes a healthy lifestyle,[iv] which makes absolutely no sense. Women do not become surrogates because they like the outdoors, but the fertility industry does prize healthy women.
The scenario currently playing out in Boise is the same scenario that has been playing out for years: economic disparity between the intended parties and the women they hire. This is why surrogacy advocates cannot adequately explain “why Boise?” To acknowledge reality would be to expose it.
The fertility industry has been operating in Boise for years, but the changes Boise has gone through over the past five years serve to exacerbate the problems inherent to surrogacy. In 2018 alone, 80,000[v] people moved to Idaho, mostly to the Boise area. This has put a huge strain on infrastructure, availability of health care, and of course the housing market. I know housing is expensive everywhere, but it’s the pace at which prices have exploded. Housing, if you can find it, is close to cost-prohibitive.
Obviously, there are good jobs in Boise, otherwise, people wouldn’t be moving here. Boise’s unemployment is lower than the national average and job growth is twice that of the national average. But this does not tell the whole story. The job growth has been in specific areas: professional, scientific, and technical services. This ignores the fact that some of the largest employers in Boise are grocery stores and Walmart. The cost of housing may have doubled, but hourly wages have not. The plight of the economically vulnerable in Boise is a very real problem.[vi]
A first-time surrogate can make $28,000 and $38,000[vii] for subsequent pregnancies. This is equal to the annual income for many in Boise. One can definitely understand the financial attraction of being a surrogate.
Demographics – “Community”
In addition to the financial duress prevalent in Boise, the demographics lend themselves to what the fertility industry desires in a surrogate. Boise is one of those cities where you want to raise your kids, and many do. A lot of families mean a lot of women in prime reproductive age who’ve had at least one child.[viii]
There’s a specific demographic of women in Boise who have been unlikely candidates for surrogacy: Latter-Day-Saints (Mormons). Idaho has the second largest population of LDS in the country (Utah being number one). Unfortunately, LDS does not prohibit surrogacy. Surrogacy is allowed once a bishop has approved it.[ix] Members of LDS are encouraged to marry and have large families. This makes an LDS woman a prime candidate for surrogacy. She’s young, healthy and has “proven” herself by having at least one child. And of course, the LDS mother can make some money to help support her own family.
A Perfect Storm
Idaho has close to no regulation of surrogacy, which minimizes legal trouble for the fertility industry and intended parties; surrogacy is cheaper in Boise; Boise has the ideal demographic that the fertility industry is looking for; and, Boise is experiencing some excruciating growing pains which have created substantial financial stress for many – that’s why Boise.
All right-minded people should be horrified by the industrial scale of surrogacy in Boise. What’s happening in Boise is a perfect example of why it is so important for pro-lifers to peruse legislation to protect both the “extra” embryos created and to protect women from exploitation. In Idaho, a woman who decides to become a surrogate has no legal protection whatsoever. I can guarantee the contract she signs, written by the fertility industry, does not have her best interests at heart. In a previous article, I wrote about the need to legally protect, or even prohibit, the creation and destruction of embryos. The situation in Boise further demonstrates the additional abuses inherent to surrogacy that must be addressed through policy.
Ana Brennan, J.D., Vice President of the Society of St. Sebastian and Senior Editor of the Journal of Bioethics in Law & Culture Quarterly.