How Does India’s Surrogacy Market Thrive Despite being called the “Rent-a-Womb” Industry?

By Sharmila Rudrappa and Caitlyn Collins

Today India has become a major hub for commercial surrogacy with clients from around the world arriving to hire working-class Indian women to become pregnant through in-vitro fertilization. Infertility agencies charge clients $25,000 to $45,000 and pay surrogate mothers roughly $4,000 to $6,000 for their labor. These same services in the United States are estimated at $80,000 to $120,000. The massive costs of commercial surrogacy in the United States and legal restrictions against gay parents in countries such as Israel, for example, have fueled a surge in demand for reproductive services in countries such as India and Mexico where women are paid far less for surrogacy.

Despite appellations such as “baby factory,” “back-womb” services, “rent-a-womb” industry, and “life factory,” surrogacy in India is thriving. How do surrogacy businesses continue to attract clients to India in spite of the circulation of such shock-inducing labels? Drawing on interviews with eight infertility doctors, twenty intended parents, and seventy Indian surrogate mothers, as well as surrogacy blogs and media stories, we find that participants justify their economic pursuits by framing their decision to hire an Indian surrogate mother as an act of compassion and altruism on their parts. We suggest that this moral framing is not incidental, but is constitutive of transnational surrogacy.

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