Reproductive Bills in the News

February 20, 2011Carole 4 Comments »

It’s that time of year again when legislatures turn to reproductive issues which by their nature tend to be controversial.  Reproductive rights issues are especially controversial because every individual looks at these issues from their own perspective, based on their own diverse cultural and/or religious upbringing and life experiences. Because there is no one perspective and arguably, no one right choice of when or how we have families, laws that dictate or limit those reproductive choices to some individuals cross a privacy line which in my opinion will invariably lead to laws that restrict everyone’s rights. Do we want to give the government that much power over the most personal choices we can make?

Personhood Amendment. The American Society for Reproductive Medicine is opposing the Oklahoma House Bill 1571, would confer “inalienable rights to all persons, defined as human beings at all stages of human development , including the the state of fertilization or conceptions, regardless of age, health, level of functioning, or conditions of dependency.” ASRM lays out its reasons for opposing this bill in their open letter to the Oklahoma House of Representatives:

“February 17, 2011
Representative Kris Steele, Speaker
Oklahoma House of Representatives
2300 N Lincoln Blvd.
State Capitol Building
Oklahoma City, OK 73105
Dear Speaker Steele,
On behalf of the American Society for Reproductive Medicine (ASRM) and the Society for Assisted Reproductive Technology (SART), we are writing to express opposition to HB 1571.
ASRM is a multidisciplinary organization of nearly 8,000 dedicated to the advancement of the art, science, and practice of reproductive medicine.  Distinguished members of ASRM include obstetricians and gynecologists, urologists, reproductive endocrinologists, embryologists, mental health professionals and others. SART is an organization of nearly 400 member practices performing more than 95% of the assisted reproductive technology (ART) cycles in the United States. SART’s mission is to set and help maintain the highest medical and professional standards for ART. SART works with the ASRM to create practice guidelines and minimum standards of care. SART also serves as the governmental watchdog for ART and is actively involved in the collection of data outcomes from its member programs.
ASRM and SART strongly support the rights of patients to seek necessary medical treatment for diseases of the reproductive system and assistance in becoming pregnant. ASRM and SART also strongly support the availability of contraception and family planning services.
HB 1571 not only threatens the reproductive rights of women, it also thwarts the ability of those who suffer from infertility to seek treatment appropriate for their disease. Because this bill would give inalienable rights to embryos, it would unduly restrict an infertile patient’s right to make decisions about embryos created as part of the in vitro fertilization process. While assisted reproductive technologies are employed to assist infertile patients in their hope of achieving a successful pregnancy outcome, embryos in excess of a patient’s clinic need may result. So too, embryos may be created that are not chromosomally suited for transfer to the patient’s uterus. While these embryos are created for the purpose of the creation of a human being, it is a biological fact that not all embryos will become human beings.
Our position is that an embryo is neither a person, nor property, but an entity deserving special respect. However, we believe that the responsibility for determining what happens to an embryo lies with the progenitors of the embryo.  An embryo, in vitro or in vivo, is a cluster of cells with a unique potential to grow into a full-fledged individual. However, in human reproduction, even as undertaken without medical assistance, fewer than 20% of fertilized eggs implant in the uterus.  Given the uncertainty that any particular embryo will develop to become a person, it is unreasonable and imbalanced to give inalienable rights to fertilized eggs or embryos.
HB 1571 was drafted and introduced without consultation from anyone in the infertility community. We strongly urge you to oppose HB 1571.
Rogerio A. Lobo, MD, President, ASRM
R. Stan William, MD, President, SART”

If this bill passes, every embryo would have the same legal rights as a child, but not every embryo has the biological potential to be a child. This distinction is fundamentally important and justifies the current state of affairs in which couples have complete rights to and control over their embryos. The implications of this bill, if it passes, are far reaching and disturbing.

If passed, many IVF physicians in Oklahoma would rightly be concerned that producing embryos for couples is far too risky to their medical practice. If an embryo is lost or fails to survive to transfer, is that manslaughter or even murder? After all, the fertilized egg would be a person, by definition. In almost every cycle, some embryos fail to develop or are abnormal and not suitable for transfer. In some cases, transfer of an abnormally fertilized egg can result in a molar pregnancy or even a type of cancer, called a choriocarcinoma. Normally, these non-clinical embryos are discarded or donated to research. Nothing in the proposed personhood laws would allow discarding of embryos as a suitable disposition for embryos because they are “people”, regardless of their “health, level of condition or functioning”.

Couples would lose the right to choose the disposition of embryos. Would it be legal to freeze excess “people” ? Perhaps couples would be required o transfer all the “people” they produce, whether or not they would otherwise choose to have more children. Is ten too many? How about if you have twenty embryos? Some expect that these personhood amendments will succeed in eliminating the practice of IVF altogether. Frankly, it would probably be best to cease IVF altogether than try to navigate the hellish quagmire of embryo personhood with all its unforeseen and unintended consequences. Oklahoma is not alone in considering these personhood amendments. According to some estimates, 10% of all legislatures in the US are considering some versions of these restrictive regulations.

Defunding Planned Parenthood. Yesterday, H.R. 217, the ‘Title X Abortion Provider Prohibition Act, introduced by Mike Pence, R. Indiana to defund Planned Parenthood was successfully passed in the House. Although Planned Parenthood is probably best known as a provider of abortions, it is also the largest provider of basic health care  including breast exams, pelvic exams, safer-sex counseling and basic infertility counseling to low income people in the US. Apparently, to ensure that no one can choose to have a legal abortion, the supporters of this bill will strip the neediest and poorest of any basic health care.

Having personally been involved in the care and maintenance of thousands of embryos over the years, many of which resulted in babies, I am not a fan of abortion, but then who is a fan of abortion? No one! This very basic point is often overlooked by both sides in the heat of the debate. The real question is how to avoid abortions without enslaving women by removing their reproductive rights. Can we agree that a worthwhile societal goal is that every child is wanted and cherished by her parents? How can a society support that goal? Well, obviously, we let people decide when they are ready to start or enlarge their families. Abstinence and contraceptives may be the best choices  to avoid conception of an unwanted pregnancy, but ultimately, when these solutions fail some people may have to make difficult choices about whether or not to become parents.

Persons choosing to use IVF to have children choose to be parents just as people who use contraception or abortion choose not to be parents. Sometimes contraception fails. Sometimes, people choose to have an abortion because of medical reasons, traumatic reasons such as abuse or rape or simply the knowledge that they can’t parent now. Adoption is an option for some, but again it is a choice to be made. These are and should remain very personal choices for people to make- but these choices may well be eliminated by laws that elevate the status of the embryo to a real child, instead of what they are, multi-celled embryos, some of which have the potential to become children. These personal reproductive choices are also eliminated by laws which restrict access to basic healthcare, contraception or even abortion.

Both these bills have in common the desire to restrict reproductive rights. It is easy to eliminate Planned Parenthood funding because Planned Parenthood’s clients are the poor and the disenfranchised. Maybe we don’t care for those people because we don’t care for abortion. But the rights of couples who need medical help to conceive are also targeted for elimination by the same reasoning because ultimately, infertility treatment is also a form of reproductive choice that some in the society feel should be restricted or eliminated. If you care about your reproductive rights and feel you should have a choice to pursue parenthood when you wish, you should likewise support reproductive choices  for everyone, even if you disagree with the choices other people make.

© 2011, Carole. All rights reserved.

4 Responses to this entry

  • Effing Infertility Says:

    I wonder what this means for ectopic pregnancies. Are they human?

  • Carole Says:

    Ectopics would be a problem. Ectopic pregnancies are not viable- no full term pregnancy and baby can result from one. To save the mother, the ectopic pregnancy is terminated by removing it surgically or in early stages, treatment with a drug like methotrexate stops cell division in the embryo which is then reabsorbed. If the embryo is legally a person with equal rights to the mother, it’s hard to imagine that these traditional treatments would be permitted unless specific exceptions are written into the law.

  • gingerandlime Says:

    Thanks for this, it’s a fantastic post and so necessary. Every time one of these “personhood” amendments comes up I get a little more scared. Effing infertility brought up ectopic pregnancies and there are plenty of other situations as well that make it clear these people aren’t interested in science at all; they’re just interested in restricting women’s bodily autonomy, and they’re not too concerned if a few people die in the process.

  • Embryo Personhood Laws | Fertility Lab Insider Says:

    […] the functional equivalent thereof.”I blogged about this topic previously in the post “Reproductive Bills in the News” when Oklahoma tried (and failed)  to pass a similar bill. There are two problems with this […]

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