How Will the Outcome of the Election Really Impact Reproductive Rights?
It's hard to miss recent articles about the impact the next President will have on abortion, specifically the Roe v. Wade decision. But most of these discussions miss broader concerns around reproductive rights -- concerns that face a rapidly-growing number of Americans. In addition to the implications on a woman's right to choose, restrictions on reproductive rights would have a profound effect on the billion-dollar infertility industry as well as tens of thousands of intended parents in this country and from abroad who take advantage of our advanced treatment options.
In recent years a growing number of couples have been waiting longer to start families -- a trend that comes with both benefits and challenges. Driven by this trend are recent estimates that one in six couples faces infertility. This has significantly increased the need and demand for access to advanced reproductive technology (ART) treatment/methods including in-vitro fertilization (IVF), egg donation, surrogacy and pre-implantation genetic testing. The options, support, and services available to couples facing infertility could be drastically impacted by restrictions currently on the table and even more so by those sure to follow the election of politicians who would have Roe v. Wade overturned.
Each year, tens of thousands of IVF cycles are performed on these couples who are desperate to have a family of their own. Whether knowingly or not, almost everyone has a friend or family member who has faced the challenges of infertility. And the nature of this struggle does not always lend itself to becoming an open discussion between family members or friends who may not understand and might disagree with choices around advanced treatment options such as egg donation or pre-implantation genetic screening. In fact, these treatment options and their success rates in helping to build families remain unknown to many people because of the secretive nature of the patients stemming from a fear of being rejected by friends, family or church.
This Tuesday, there are initiatives on ballots throughout the country that not only seek to limit access to abortion but birth control and, we can comfortably assume, ART. For example, Colorado is currently considering Amendment 48, which would alter the state constitution to grant fertilized eggs equal rights as a human being. Exactly how this would impact ART is understood when examining the IVF process and what happens to a woman's eggs once they are harvested from her ovaries. Because of the extremely costly IVF process drugs are used to stimulate a woman's ovaries to produce multiple numbers of eggs, assuring couples of having enough eggs to "work with". All of these eggs are fertilized in the hope that some of the resulting embryos will be healthy enough to implant into the womb of the intended mother. Next, a decision must be made as to what will be done with the fertilized eggs which are not transferred. The choices to be made are to cryo-preserve (freeze) the fertilized eggs, donate them to science (for research purposes most likely) or discard them. Amendment 48 could effectively criminalize this part of the IVF process, threatening eventual legal action against those health care workers responsible for this part of the procedure. The IVF process would be even costlier and have a much lower success rate without this decision-making authority on the back end. And even more disturbingly, its criminalization would certainly mean the loss of practicing physicians -- many of whom have raised the bar of this specialty to a level unmatched in the world -- for fear of criminal action as a result of their participation.
Moreover, couples who carry genetic disorders which could be passed on to their offspring and who utilize IVF along with pre-implantation genetic testing to select for embryos unaffected with life-threatening diseases might not be able to do so. It's reasonable to assume that the process of testing the fertilized eggs for genetic disorders and the subsequent decision to not utilize affected fertilized eggs would be outlawed. The would-be parents would then face the painful choice between a life without having children of their own or the possibility of having a child destined for a short and painful existence being cared for by parents who may not have the resources for a gravely ill child.
The rise in infertility-related business would also be impacted. Over the last decade, there have been a large number of small businesses built and sustained on the idea of helping those who struggle with infertility. Egg donor agencies, attorneys who help couples navigate the thorny legal issues surrounding ART, therapists, acupuncturists, fertility consultants and life-coaches all contribute to successful family building. But proposed restrictions would likely shutter many of these American businesses. Like many industries that have shipped jobs overseas, we could witness an infertility treatment boom in places like India which already has become a destination for other medical procedures. A difficult emotional journey would be made even more challenging with the addition of a physical journey and the associated costs. Not to mention the fact that driving intended parents overseas means they will enjoy fewer regulations and safeguards available in the states including guidelines promulgated by The American Society of Reproductive Technology recommending legal counseling and psychological screening and counseling.
Clearly, the outcome of this election will impact many aspects of our lives. Americans will pull the lever on choices that will affect their families for years to come. Although the abortion issue seems fairly black and white to many, reproductive rights discussions are moving further into a gray area as more Americans are touched by the increasingly complicated aspects of infertility. As someone who works to support couples desperate to have their own families, I hope that Americans truly understand the effect of Tuesday's decision beyond its potential to overturn Roe v. Wade. The irony is that the efforts to ban women's reproductive rights will directly impact a woman's right to build a family utilizing current available technology.
Nazca Fontes, Founder & President
In 1992, armed with a biology degree from the University of Redlands, Nazca entered the laboratory world of infertility. Daily experience with egg donors provided her with valuable insights into the critical need for a higher standard of egg donor recruitment. Her multi-faceted expertise, combined with her own, less-than-ideal, firsthand experience as an egg donor, became the unique platform upon which Nazca developed and nurtured ConceiveAbilities. Having earned a national reputation over the past decade as a leader in egg donation, one of Nazca's most passionate goals has been to use her own experience as an example to other young professional women that egg donation is a worthwhile endeavor that can be rewarding for both donor and intended parent. The resulting influx of such women has made ConceiveAbilities' donor pool unrivaled. In the little time she spends away from ConceiveAbilities, Nazca enjoys travel and culinary pursuits, and tries to keep up with her two young sons.