The Consequences of Losing IVF: Why “Personhood” Legislation Could Be as Detrimental to Family Health as Losing Access to Abortion and Birth Control
In the late afternoon on January 21st, I took my four-and–half- year-old son to downtown San Francisco to march with women and men. We carried two signs. One that called out “Family Inclusion: Do-it-Yourself Moms Against Trump.” The other, which he helped me hold, said “Four-and-Half-Year-Olds-For-Feminism.” I took this moment to express a deep belief that anyone who wants to start a family should be able to, no matter the formation, and that kids need to understand gender equality as young as possible.
Without these modern reproductive choices, many of us wouldn’t have our families
When I turned 40, improved gender equality had led me to more solid financial ground. With my biological clock ticking, I could take control of it, freeze my eggs, and eventually have a child on my own as a Single Mom by Choice, or what I call a DIY Mom. Even though I felt like an outlier, advanced reproductive technology empowered me. Now I’ve watched countless young professional women make similar choices using reproductive technologies. They’ve chosen to freeze their eggs or use Invitro Fertilization to have their children, with partners or on their own. Without these modern reproductive choices, many of us wouldn’t have our families.
A Revised Definition of Infertility
Last year, the World Health Organization acknowledged these new choices by calling for a revised definition of infertility. The new definition would include single men and single women who had not found a partner. The authors of this new global standard said that every individual should have the “right to reproduce.” It’s a statement that could have profound effects on access to in vitro fertilization in places where it’s limited to couples who have been diagnosed as medically infertile. Heterosexual single men and women and gay men and women who want to have children could be given the same priority as couples seeking IVF because of medical fertility challenges.
Days after the Women’s March, it was devastating enough that President Trump’s all male administration surrounded him to sign executive action that limited women’s access to birth control and abortion. Then a week later, Georgia’s Republican Congressmen Jodi Rice, along with 21 fellow representatives, introduced equally draconian “Personhood” legislation. Georgia’s H.R 586, which has been dubbed The Sanctity of Human Life Act, could prevent many of us from conceiving healthy children when we are ready and best prepared for the job.
These limits carry scary social implications that run counter to the World Health Organization’s position
The legislation would grant a one-celled embryo conceived via Invitro Fertilization the rights of a full human being. If it passed, the practice of Invitro Fertilization would be limited in order to protect the life of an embryo. This would be the case even if those practices were part of the Reproductive Endocrinologist’s goal to help a family conceive a wanted child. The law could limit the number of eggs that can be fertilized and transferred into a woman’s uterus. It could also make illegal the freezing and storage of embryos since not all embryos thaw successfully, explained Barbara Collura, the President of Resolve: The National Infertility Association.
These limits carry scary social implications that run counter to the World Health Organization’s position. They also fall in line with the Trump administration’s exclusion politics. They could end up constricting any family that relies on Advanced Reproductive Technology to conceive their children, including single parents and LGBT couples.
This legislation is a step in the wrong direction for the advancement of medical science. It threatens a tool that can help to solve the main underlying social challenge that prompted the World Health Organization’s redefinition in the first place: the fact that the birthrate in many countries is dropping. In the US, the CDC has reported that during the post World War 11 Baby Boom, the fertility rate was 122.9 births per 1,000 women. In 2016, it dropped to 59.8 births per 1000 women.
Part of the reason for this decline is due to increased access to birth control. Births to women in their teens and twenties in the US are at an all time low. Another part is the economic reality that myself, and so many other professionals, now face. Children are expensive. We are increasingly more focused on building our careers and having children when we are older and more financially and emotionally equipped to have support them. Last year, the CDC reported again that the age of first time motherhood, especially among women over 35, rose.
Because our biological clocks have not caught up with these social realities, a growing number of people are struggling with infertility. The CDC also reported that the use of Invitro Fertilization has doubled in the last decade.
Limiting New Tools
Infertility and fertility awareness is waking younger women up to new choices and tools for family planning. The American Society for Reproductive Medicine has now taken the experimental label off of egg freezing. An increasing number of companies are offering female employees this option on their health insurance plans. Frozen eggs would not fall under the “Personhood” legislation, but in order to have a child with one’s frozen eggs, a woman who made this choice would eventually have to rely on IVF to create embryos.
Older couples are also freezing embryos in order to insure they can have more than one child. LGBT couples who rely on surrogates or frozen donor eggs need access to IVF to get pregnant. Because the risk for genetic abnormalities increase in older parents, tools like IVF, used along with preimplantation genetic screening, could also help in preventing genetic diseases.
Limiting these reproductive tools in order to save a single cell would not only impede technological progress to improve children’s lives, but it would limit some of the most prepared families from giving children an economically stable and healthy life – at a time when the world needs them.