Why the "Personhood Bill" is Bad for IVF (and what you can do about it!)

Abortion is hardly a new topic in the infertility community. While on the surface the idea of fertility treatments and abortion seem like they reside on opposite sides of the spectrum, on further inspection they’re actually much more closely linked than many people realize. And in today’s political climate, the issue has become quite literally a do-or-die situation.

It’s not my intention to stir the political pot (though honestly, what could I dredge up that hasn’t already been tossed around these days?!?) or convince you of the righteousness of the conservatives or the liberals. That’s not my point at all. I’m in no way deviating from my goal of helping people become parents.

There is currently a bill in the House of Representatives called HR 586 or the "Personhood Bill” which seeks to criminalize abortion. What does abortion have to do with fertility treatment and IVF, you may wonder? You may even be personally opposed to abortion (or selective reduction, or pregnancy termination as it’s often called in the fertility word, but it all means the same thing – ending a pregnancy through medical intervention) and perhaps would never consider it for yourself or your gestational carrier. Which is a respectable perspective to have of course. However, it can also lead to a very false sense of complacency regarding HR 586.

You see, the Personhood Bill seeks to define the beginning of human life as the moment conception takes place. And you may see it that way too - after all, once the egg is fertilized by the sperm it starts dividing and growing into cells, then transforming into an embryo. It is in fact alive.

But here’s the issue with defining human life as starting at the moment of conception as part of the effort to outlaw abortion. By defining it that way, HR 586 affords all fetuses (regardless of gestational age), all embryos (regardless of quality, condition or size), even all fertilized eggs the exact same rights as all living, breathing human beings. The same rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness as guaranteed by the US Constitution.

Do you see the problem here?

In the quest to criminalizing abortion, the Personhood Bill would also criminalize IVF given the fact that not all embryos are afforded a chance to grow into human beings. By the nature of the in-vitro process, embryos are discarded for various reasons – some don’t grow quickly enough or appropriately, some are tested and found to have genetic defects, some are just left over from successful IVF transfers. Some are donated to scientific research.

But by affording “personhood protection” under the proposed bill, none of these things could happen because they may be viewed as endangering the life of a human being (even though they're still just cells in a laboratory petri dish). Most people consider those cells as having the potential to develop into a human being, but not an actual human being yet. The threat of personhood is that IVF as we know it could be outlawed.

This is not the first time that a bill such as HR 586 has been initiated – in fact, similar bills have been put before Congress since 1995 and have always failed to pass. However, in 2017 we find ourselves with a Republican House, a Republican Senate, a Republican President, an unpredictable corps of presidential advisers, and the very strong potential for a conservative leaning Supreme Court.  This constellation of government forces makes it more likely than ever that a bill such as HR 568 could pass (and if we’re to take away any one lesson from the previous year in politics it’s to expect the unexpected).

What can you do to help prevent the Personhood Bill from becoming law? Speak up! It’s critical that you contact your House Representative and let him or her know that you oppose HR 586 and the negative impact it has on couples undergoing fertility treatments – the people who are actually trying to have a family! If you don’t know who your House Representative is, you can find out here.

The very best way to make your views know is to call your Representative’s office and speak to a staffer, letting them know that you oppose HR 586 because personhood is bad for families by restricting family building options. If you can’t get a live person on the phone, it’s fine to leave a message – your input will be tabulated.

These are uncertain political times we’re living in and we’re in highly uncharted waters. Now is the time to speak out against legislation that’s bad for women, bad for families, and bad for science. Please call today and make your voice heard!