Oregon has become something of an international center for surrogacy. In this five-part series, OPB's Kristian Foden-Vencil explores why this is the case, especially for gay Israeli couples.
There isn't one big reason people end up looking for surrogates in Oregon. It's more like a consequence of a lot of decisions.
The path to the Pacific Northwest starts with a decision by the intended parents to not use a surrogate who isn’t fully in control of her body or economic situation. The media has many stories about women being forced to live in dormitories, away from their families, as babies are gestated. Hiring someone to carry a child in India, Nepal or Thailand is perhaps half the price of a surrogate in the United States, but the processes are not transparent.
As Oren, a father from Haifa, Israel, put it, “I didn’t want to some day wake up and say: ‘Oh, my God. I did something awful. I used a woman.’ So I wanted to have a clear conscience.”
That’s why he and his husband turned to the U.S., where contracts have to be clear and lay out in plain language all the issues a surrogate or the family could face.
Another consideration for intended parents is a surrogate’s motivation: why does a woman want to carry someone else’s child?
The money paid in the U.S., while substantial, isn’t life changing — at least not when compared with someone from a third-world country.
Tabitha Koh, an attorney with Northwest Surrogacy Center, says that means surrogates in the U.S. aren't motivated only by finances.
“I’ve heard families articulating specifically with regard to carrying for a gay family the idea that … 'we can do something to make a difference. We can do something to help them,'” Koh said.
Many families are also drawn to the U.S. by the fact that any child born here gets U.S. citizenship.
But these are all broad and amorphous benefits that exist in many states throughout the U.S.
So, why specifically Oregon? New Israeli father Ilan Tal says, for one thing, there’s a critical mass of surrogacy-related businesses here.
“Oregon has some sort of rare circumstances where you can get the surrogacy done and the IVF done and the donors all at the same place, which makes it easier,” Tal said.
At the center of that critical mass of businesses stands
, a Portland fertility clinic. The chairman of the Association of Israeli Gay Fathers, Udi Ledergor, says it’s one of the best in the world. The clinic recently hired two representatives in Israel.
“That pushes a lot of Israeli couples and single parents to go to Oregon for their surrogacy journey … especially foreigners, (they) do need some hand-holding throughout the process and prefer to go to an agency with a local representative here who speaks Hebrew, who works Israel hours and who they can talk to, ask questions, cry a little bit if they need to. And find out what the hell is happening in Oregon right now,” Ledergor said.
Another reason many intended parents who are gay end up here is simply that Oregonians are a relatively accepting bunch.
As John Chally, an attorney with Northwest Surrogacy Center, explained, "If you have a couple of men walking down the sidewalk with a baby in a carriage, people are going to look up and smile at them."
Tel Aviv attorney Victoria Gelfand agrees. She says there’s also the state’s clean environment to consider.
“Most women that we see in Oregon, they are pro-healthy lifestyle. They work out and they eat healthy and the spend a lot of time with their families, outdoors. Everyone loves that their baby grows in a healthy lifestyle,” she said.
Those are all general reasons intended parents end up in Oregon, but Gelfand says the state’s birth certificate process also makes it attractive.
“Oregon works for either a couple of fathers or a heterosexual couple or a single parent,” Gelfand said.
After a baby is born here, the hospital files a birth certificate with the state’s Office of Vital Records. That certificate lists the name of the surrogate.
Gelfand says Oregon law allows this important document to easily be changed — to remove the birth mother’s name and list just the intended parents. And they can both be men. Oregon doesn’t require a woman on the certificate, and authorities don’t mind if the intended parents are gay or straight. Many other states, such as Texas last year, have followed Oregon’s lead in this.
Gelfand says the flexibility of Oregon’s birth certificate process is also important when it comes to the citizenship needs of a new family.
“If they have an Israeli and European citizenship, sometimes adoption is much more widely acknowledged. So some countries would want to see an adoption order so that they can acknowledge this surrogacy process,” Gelfand said.
Other countries won’t accept two fathers on a birth certificate and require the identity of the woman who gave birth, before issuing any citizenship papers.
And Gelfand says Oregon’s process can be tweaked to do just that.
Read More: Oregon, The Surrogacy State
Part I: Checkup: An Oregon Surrogate's Story
Part II: The 11th Commandment: Thou Shalt Have Children
Part III: Fertile Ground: Why Oregon Is The Surrogacy State
Part IV: Religion And State: Oregon Born, Israel Bound
Part V: DNA And Surrogacy: The Envelope, Please