Wednesday, August 22, 2018
Aug. 8, 2018 (The New Republic): The Glaring Exception in the Coming Battle Over Reproductive Rights, by Emma Scornavacchi:
Justice Kennedy's retirement announcement earlier this summer immediately sparked discussion and concern over the fate of Roe v. Wade, abortion rights, and reproductive rights in general. Conservative and anti-abortion activists now feel that, depending on Trump's SCOTUS nominee, making abortion illegal in the United States is a real possibility. Further, "an emboldened anti-abortion campaign could lead to consequences for women’s health care and reproductive rights that range far beyond abortion restrictions. Contraceptive devices, such as IUDs or even the pill, could cease to be covered by insurance."
Notably, though, in-vitro fertilization (IVF), tends to be left out of the reproductive rights debate.
A leader of the Pro-Life Action League cited that it can be too difficult to explain what is "objectionable" about IVF as a reason for focusing conservative efforts on abortion alone--despite the fact that the typical IVF cycle results in the disposal of many fertilized embryos. "IVF poses a puzzling challenge for conservative groups: How do organizations that liken embryos to people reckon with a technology that creates babies for families, but destroys embryos along the way?"
In the United States, the success rate for IVF in women under 35 hovers around 42%. To achieve that success, though, IVF cycles may produce anywhere from 3 - 25 embryos at a time. Many of the unused embryos remain frozen, some may be donated to research or to another family, and some may be "thawed" right away (that is, disposed of).
Usually, anti-abortion arguments pertain to the right to life of unborn embryos, who do not get a say in the termination of life. "Unborn" embryos are being terminated by "thawing" across the country, as well, however, with no general outcry from conservative anti-abortion activists. "'There’s a disconnect between how public policy treats women who undergo IVF and women who have abortions,' says Margo Kaplan, a Rutgers law professor." Kaplan herself underwent IVF, and she and her husband chose to donate their unused embryos to medical research. Such research contributes to developments in treatments and cures for diseases like Parkinson's, yet Planned Parenthood was harshly targeted for participating in embryonic research partnerships.
Women who undergo IVF and choose to donate embryos do not have to read any mandated material or sit out a waiting period, both of which are required of women in many states who choose to get an abortion. “Nobody ever questioned my ability to make my own decision. And we don’t assume that women have the same ability to do that when they have an abortion,” Kaplan says.
Anti-abortion activists are hesitant to focus on the IVF issue when they see the opportunity to at least make strides criminalizing abortion, especially in light of today's Supreme Court opening. Kaplan also posits that activists are hesitant to focus on IVF as problematic, because it's a procedure that values and supports a woman's desire to be a mother, while abortion tends to implicate women who are pregnant but do not want motherhood.
Patriarchal values combine with the stigma around abortion to explain the dichotomy in how conservatives are choosing to respond to abortion versus IVF. Further, IVF is steeped in privilege--the costs to undergo IVF cycles can exceed $20,000 and the treatments are out of reach for many people who would otherwise avail themselves of it. As such, IVF is often enjoyed exclusively by well-educated, wealthy, and white women. If it continues to thrive--even amidst anti-abortion attacks on other forms of reproductive rights--its privilege will likely bolster its continued growth and support.