Anti-abortion activists want embryos to have ‘rights,’ limiting IVF – INSIDER

During my first round of fertility treatment, I got excited when the doctor said I might get six eggs. Six! It sounded like a plethora of riches. I thought of the many children I could have (twins, maybe?) and even considered to whom I'd give my extra eggs. Perhaps the friend at my clinic who was having a baby on her own.

At the time I didn't know much about IVF or my own reproductive cycle, for that matter. I was pretty disappointed when the doctor retrieved only four eggs. They were fertilized with my husband's sperm and became four embryos. So maybe I wouldn't be giving any away after all.

Sarah Pitlyk, who was confirmed to the federal judiciary, has used the term "embryonic children" in reference to embryos. Getty

But four was a lot, right? Especially since we only wanted to have two kids.

My first embryo transfer resulted in a miscarriage. We decided at that point to do additional egg retrievals and keep the frozen embryos on ice for a second child. My husband and I used to joke about our embryos (or "embabies," as some call them).

Were they cold? Would these kids have a proclivity for winter? Would they like the movie "Frozen?"

But we were joking. Knowing we still had embryos was comforting, but we also knew these egg-sperm combinations weren't actually alive.

I thought a lot about my ignorance surrounding fertility and IVF in those early days as I watched the Senate confirm Sarah Pitlyk to the US District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri earlier this month, a lifetime appointment. The nomination of Pitlyk, who currently serves as special counsel to an anti-abortion law firm, drew ire from the pro-choice movement because of her extreme views on reproductive rights. She opposes abortion, surrogacy, and fertility treatment.

In this role, Pitlyk's influence over reproductive law can't be overstated. Missouri has just one abortion clinic, and in this conservative stronghold, it is constantly fighting to keep its doors open. The state's abortion providers may just find themselves pleading their case in Pitlyk's courtroom.

She may very well assert that same influence over cases pertaining to assisted reproductive technology, and in determining the status of embryos.

We're living in a time when women's reproductive rights are under fire.

Pitlyk opposes abortion, surrogacy, and IVF. Getty

When anti-abortionists like Pitlyk come to power, access to abortion decreases. That's achieved through the passing of a range of restrictive laws, including ones that force patients to undergo ultrasounds before an abortion. It happens through proposed bills that compel doctors to reimplant ectopic pregnancies. (I'd just like to note here that "reimplanting" isn't actually medically possible).

Our reproductive rights, however, extend beyond abortion. They also include the right to have a baby, by accessing fertility treatment, when we can afford it.

Thanks to some emerging legislation and generous corporate benefits, these treatments are becoming more financially feasible for more families. In 2020, for example, New York will join other states in having an insurance mandate to cover fertility treatment and medically necessary egg freezing.

But if anti-abortionists like Pitlyk have anything to say about it, IVF will become increasingly less available, even to those with the means to pay for it.

Before she was confirmed, Pitlyk made her stance on reproductive treatments well known.

Reproductive experts say there's no medical grounds to assign rights to an embryo. Getty

She has called birth control "evil." Pitlyk referred to surrogacy as something that "diminishes respect for motherhood" and "encourages exploitation of women." (Feminist icon Gloria Steinem shares that same stance on surrogacy.)

Regarding IVF, Pitlyk said it is a "scientific fact" that "human life begins at the moment when a human sperm fertilizes a human egg."

She also referred to embryos in a 2015 divorce custody battle as "embryonic children."She said the judgment against her client in that case showed that the embryos were treated "as inanimate objects, not human beings with the same interests as other unborn children." In her brief, she wrote that the court was "allowing their father to destroy their younger siblings."

Do embryos have rights? According to Pitlyk, they do.

None of this should come as a surprise. The Catholic Church forbids IVF on the grounds that it's morally unacceptable. It's also the basis for Personhood bills around the country, which grant rights to fertilized eggs.

(What's next, rights for frozen, unfertilized eggs? Lawsuits against women for having their periods?!)

Reproductive experts say there's no medical grounds for treating embryos like human beings, though.

"Personhood is one of the most dangerous political movements in America," said Dr. Brian Levine, founding partner and director of the Colorado Center for Reproductive Medicine's New York location. "I don't understand how you could assign rights to an embryo if there's no guarantee of it implanting."

Levine added that giving rights to embryos will inevitably limit how people use them.

If embryos are granted rights, this could send the entire IVF industry, and how it operates, into upheaval. It could also seriously limit people's access to assisted reproductive technologies altogether.

IVF works because women are given hormones to increase egg production, and therefore the chance to create viable embryos. It takes multiple embryos to get to one healthy baby.

If embryos are afforded rights, then clinics may be prohibited from testing them for genetic issues and other conditions, which is now a standard part of the process. People might not be able to donate them for research. They may not be able to give embryos to families in need either, which is becoming more and more common among those who have a surplus of embryos. Patients might not be allowed to discard their leftover embryos at the end of their IVF journey.

If an embryo has rights, clinics might not be able to perform standard genetic tests. Getty

This could also mean not being allowed to create the multiple embryos needed to help the many couples facing infertility.

Pitlyk and others who share the same views of IVF may not try to outright ban assisted reproductive technologies. But they may advocate for laws that gradually chip away at IVF resources, procedures, and clinics, the way the anti-abortion movement has with abortion access. They may just set up impassable roadblocks that preclude access to avenues to fertility.

To escape being accused of revoking reproductive rights, anti-IVF activists will often tone down their framing.

"Nobody is against 'treating infertility,'" Katy Faust, founder and director of Them Before Us, an advocacy group that opposes surrogacy. wrote in the Federalist, a conservative political magazine.

Later on in her piece, which was titled, "We Need More Judges Who Realize How Monetizing Wombs Hurts Women and Children," Faust went on to say that she's in favor of "investigating and resolving underlying issues that make pregnancy difficult."

That, in essence, is similar to the insurance companies that support diagnostic tests, but not actual infertility treatment, a process Faust refers to as "Babies manufactured in laboratories."

In America, 7 million women struggle with infertility. Since 1985, 1.2 million babies were born in the US through IVF. Of those births, 72,321 occurred in 2017, according to the Society for Assisted Reproductive Technology.

Policies that restrict access to IVF would leave a lot of people in the lurch.

In America, 7 million women struggle with infertility. Getty

I can't tell you how many eggs, sperm and embryos it took us to get a baby. I've had eggs not mature. I've had eggs fertilize, but the embryos not make it past day two or three or to day five. I've had eggs transferred to my womb and not implant, or implant briefly and end in a "chemical pregnancy," or implant for longer and then miscarry.

Overall, I might have had about 20 embryos, seven transfers and four miscarriages and lots and lots of disappointment.

Suffice it to say, we quickly depleted our embryo storage, as well as our hopes for ever having a child. We learned along the way that my eggs, my husband's sperm, our embryos and even our pregnancies, were all just possibilities. Potential ingredients for a child, like flour and sugar are for a cake. Just the raw ingredients.

"You won't be happy until you're holding a baby in your arms," my tenth doctor said to me when I complained about being so nervous throughout my pregnancy after four miscarriages.

He was right. I was only happy upon the birth of our daughter, a real, live baby. The only human from the whole long journey.

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Anti-abortion activists want embryos to have 'rights,' limiting IVF - INSIDER

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