You are getting ready to visit a clinic for a medically necessary procedure. You are scared. You know you should do this, but you don't have the guts to tell your closest friends or god forbid, your own mother. They will judge you and not be sympathetic to your situation. They will offer alternatives and other options that just don't fit your life. So, you decide to go forward. You pray, or you burn your incense, or you think the most positive thoughts and remind yourself that this procedure will make your life better. You get in your car and drive to the clinic. As you approach, you realize there are protestors outside the clinic. And they are holding up the most awful signs and yelling at you that what you're doing is wrong. You push your way through the protesters and the chants and the horrible signs, all with your head down and slightly covered (who knows, a protester might be your neighbor) and rush into the front door of the building. Your journey has just begun.
No, this is not a scene from the movie "Juno" or a blog post about the pro-life/pro-choice movement. This is an actual account of what it was like for Judith Carr, who went to the Eastern Virginia Medical School in Norfolk, Virginia in 1981 to undergo the first successful IVF procedure in the U.S. And, it was a similar scenario for women visiting a fertility medical practice in a suburb of Chicago in 2014. Yes, just last year.
Since its inception, more than five million babies worldwide have been born as a result of IVF. And currently, one percent of all U.S. babies are born as a result of IVF each year. Despite its utilization over the past 34 years and the advancements in the science behind the procedure, the politics and "social acceptance" of undergoing IVF have not changed much at all. Infertility is a disease; the reasons for using IVF, and even getting access to it, are misunderstood and often impacted by the policies of the pro-life movement.
This is why it can be frustrating to be an infertility advocate. I should know; I do it every day and work with hundreds of passionate volunteer advocates all around the country who fight for the rights of people living with infertility. We fight because we know the only way to see real change happen is for people impacted by infertility to speak out and share their stories. Every day my goal is to convince one more person to speak out and be brave and share their story. I coax them and prod them and, yes, sometimes beg them, to write/call/meet their state and federal elected officials. I urge advocates to tell their lawmakers how current policies make it hard for them to build their family; that infertility is a disease they did not choose to have; that infertility does not discriminate based on age, race or economic status. They gather the strength, despite the fact that infertility takes so much of that away, they stand up for what they believe in, they travel to Washington, D.C. and their state capitols...and then...just when a bill that would do so much good for someone in our community actually has some momentum and may actually pass, politics rears its ugly head again.
This week a bill that would help Veterans build their families - Veterans with infertility caused by their service to our country - was ready to be voted on by the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee, but was instead unexpectedly and reluctantly pulled from consideration by the bill sponsor, Senator Patty Murray (D-WA). Since 1992, the VA has been banned from offering IVF. From the floor of the Senate, Murray said she pulled the bill because she learned that Senator Thom Tillis (R-NC) was planning to propose six amendments to the bill that would have essentially stalled the bill and prevented it from moving forward. Senator Murray had no choice but to pull the bill from a Committee vote. Four of the six amendments had nothing to do with the actual bill content itself, including two amendments focused on fetal tissue sale or transfer, a direct connection to the recent uproar concerning Planned Parenthood. The two amendments related to IVF procedures are very problematic for our community and do not in any way improve the process, make it safer, or enhance pregnancy outcomes, but they do have the underlying tone of characterizing an embryo as a person. So once again the infertility community, and now our infertile Veterans, became an unintended consequence in a political fight that has nothing to do with infertility. People with infertility want to build families - our issues are pro-family.
This is not the first time in recent years where the infertility community was dragged into the pro-life/pro-choice debate. We have fought Personhood ballot initiatives in Mississippi, Colorado and North Dakota, and countless Personhood bills. Twenty-four state legislatures have considered a Personhood bill since 2008, and RESOLVE has been fighting each one of them. We fight for increased access to all family building options and fight against bills that would impact that access. Equating the full rights of a person to a microscopic fertilized egg makes performing IVF to the standard of care required nearly impossible.
So what do infertility advocates do now? Well, we keep going. But our issues need more voices. We need more people to stand with the infertility community. This is not about being pro-life or pro-choice. It's about believing that people with a disease have a right to access safe and effective medical treatments. It's about being pro-family.
And to address the current situation with Senator Murray's bill, S 469: Congress, please, don't mess with our Veterans and their right to have a family. Their service to our country took that away from them, and we need to make it right. We can't withhold this life-affirming medical procedure from them just because it creates embryos. We can't take their dreams away just because IVF involves procreation. If you don't like IVF, then by all means, don't choose to do it. But don't penalize our injured Veterans for having infertility. Please, pass a compassionate, medically sound, patient-friendly bill that lifts the IVF ban at the Veterans Administration. A bill exists right now in the House and Senate that will do just that - so pass it. Make our Veterans whole again.
Barbara Collura is President/CEO of RESOLVE: The National Infertility Association, a 40-year-old patient advocacy organization that exists to improve the lives of people living with infertility. To learn more about RESOLVE's policy work, visit www.resolve.org.