Proposed Restrictions on Reproductive Rights Threaten Economic Growth

Looking Forward a Year (Instead of Backward) to Strengthen U.S. Economy

As we all look back on lessons learned from last year's economic downturn, I'd ask that we don't wait to learn at least one lesson the hard way. If Washington truly wants to stimulate economic growth within the U.S., politicians should think carefully about continued efforts to limit reproductive options. Efforts including broadening the definition of human life (such as those on the ballot in South Dakota, Colorado and California one year ago), legislative efforts to restrict donor compensation and other restrictions on reproductive rights could have a significant impact on a billion-dollar contributor to the U.S. economy -- the infertility industry.

Movement in this direction could have a costly effect on a sizable and burgeoning industry in this country. Besides proposed legislation to change the status of an embryo (to human status), the kinds of politically-driven restrictions that can be detrimental to this growth industry run the gamut, including recent legislation proposed in Florida to require that all agencies that recruit or screen donors be run by a licensed attorneys or gamete registries, like those in England, that require donors to be identified by genetic offspring.

There is also potential regulation via the FDA which will impact surrogacy. If the FDA imposes tissue guidance regulations on surrogacy, it will impact the ability of couples from Europe and gay couples internationally and domestically to utilize the services of a gestational carrier in the United States. Gestational surrogacy is the fastest growing segment of third-party reproduction in the this country and any such regulation will have an immediate impact on both agencies providing access to surrogates and the fertility centers providing medical services. From an entrepreneurial perspective, to me this is a greater threat than much discussed taxation imposed upon the small business owner in various forms. Typically, the true cause for concern misses the target but hits the tree.

The problem here is that no one is considering the economic effects these decisions will have. No one has considered how many business will be affected, how many health professionals will lose their jobs.

Reproductive "tourism" -- or motivated intended parents traveling to the U.S. from around the world to take advantage of the scientific expertise, availability and access to state-of-the-art technology and professionally administered fertility services, not to mention the favorable laws within the U.S. -- is helping to drive annual industry growth. I've personally seen an increase of 30% at my egg donation and surrogacy agency and heard anecdotal support of this growth rate from colleagues from around the country. This increase has allowed my business to remain sound during one of the most tumultuous economic times in recent history and enabled me to retain every employee without a reduction in benefits.

Many intended parents travel from Canada, Australia, and parts of Europe and Asia, where restrictive laws and limitations on egg donation and surrogacy make the process in their own country prohibitive for the growing number of couples who have started family-building only to be met with obstacles eventually surmounted by the services of third party providers in the U.S.

The kinds of restrictions that continue to surface with every U.S. election cycle threaten to squash this rapidly growing component of the economy. For instance, initiatives like those on the ballot in some states last November could eventually result in making parts of the IVF process illegal, which would lead to the demise of many small American businesses created to serve the infertility industry.

In addition to the direct economic impact of doors closing and the resulting loss of jobs, couples needing assistance in creating their families bringing foreign dollars into the U.S. via the infertility industry would still be spending those dollars, only now they would do so in other countries.

Additionally, the technologies and capabilities developed and/ or perfected in the U.S. in recent years has been an important export. Researchers and physicians that come to this country to learn and be mentored in the groundbreaking technological advancements developed and advanced here would be forced to go elsewhere.

Although we might not see these suggested restrictions again until next year's elections, I vote for letting this nascent market grow in the hands of well established and respected professionals so we don't have to look back to learn another tough economic lesson.