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My eldest daughter was born through IVF. Here’s what ‘pro-life’ conservatives don’t understand.

This miracle of modern science is suddenly in jeopardy for families across the state — and potentially the rest of the country.

My 12-year-old daughter loves Taylor Swift’s music, Larry David’s comedy and British murder mysteries. She’s a champion horseback rider and a great student, though she spends way too much time texting on her phone with her friends — and not nearly enough time picking up after herself. She is, in my biased opinion, the smartest, funniest, most beautiful 12-year-old in the world. 

And without in vitro fertilization, she wouldn’t be here. 

Usually, I bring this up to marvel over the wonders of modern science, which made it possible for her to be born and make the world a better place (I would be remiss at this point — and susceptible to potential patricide — if I did not also mention that my 10-year-old is the smartest, funniest, most beautiful 10-year-old in the world). 

Alabama has already made it impossible for women in their state to end an unwanted pregnancy; now, they are threatening to stop women who want to have children from doing so.

But after last week’s decision from the Alabama Supreme Court that says fertilized embryos “are children, this miracle of modern science is suddenly in doubt for families across Alabama — and potentially the rest of the country. In its ideological zeal to “protect the unborn,” the Alabama Supreme Court has actually made it more difficult for children to be born.

In an ominous sign for families in Alabama who cannot conceive naturally, the University of Alabama at Birmingham health system — the eighth largest in the country — announced on Wednesday a pause in IVF treatments as they determined whether its doctors and/or patients could be held criminally responsible for undergoing IVF treatment. Other fertility clinics have followed suit. The legal issues at play are legion: If Alabama considers an embryo a person, would even accidental damage to an embryo trigger a criminal investigation or a civil lawsuit? What about storage for unused embryos? Do they now need to be maintained in frozen perpetuity?

For those not familiar with in vitro fertilization, a woman’s eggs are retrieved and then fertilized in a lab with a man’s sperm to create embryos. Multiple embryos are then transferred into the woman’s uterus in the hopes that at least one will result in a pregnancy. It’s often a last resort for parents unable to conceive naturally or find success with less intrusive techniques like artificial insemination.

We tried three times to conceive via the latter method. When it didn’t work, we had little choice but to go the IVF route. The process is expensive (one cycle of IVF can cost between $15,000 and $25,000) and exhausting, because it can take multiple cycles for pregnancy to occur. And, in some cases, it never happens at all. Unused embryos are frozen for potential future use or discarded. 

Contrary to the ruling of the Alabama Supreme Court, embryos are not children. They are a minute collection of cells with the potential to be a fetus and then a child if placed inside a woman. By potentially blocking that crucial step, so-called pro-life judges are actually preventing life from occurring. 

The irony is extraordinary. Many red states have enacted abortion laws with no exceptions for rape or incest. In Alabama, the only exception is when a pregnancy threatens the health of the mother.  Republican state legislators and anti-abortion activists have argued that every pregnancy, even one conceived by force, is a blessing and should go forward.  

Without IVF, those embryos can’t become people. It’s literally the reason IVF exists: to help people who can’t conceive naturally.

But in the case of IVF, we’re talking about parents who desperately want children — and who are willing to pay tens of thousands of dollars to make it happen. Alabama has already made it impossible for women in their state to end an unwanted pregnancy; now, they are threatening to stop women who want to have children from doing so.

One can argue that if a person believes that life begins at conception, the ideologically coherent position is to oppose the destruction of frozen embryos, which are the result of conception. 

But this is precisely the location where the anti-abortion train, tied to an ideologically rigid worldview, goes off the tracks. Without IVF, those embryos can’t become people. It’s literally the reason IVF exists: to help people who can’t conceive naturally. In making the argument that an embryo is a person, the Alabama Supreme Court is blocking the only path for that embryo to become a person — and thousands of families to raise children.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, just over 2% of births per year are the result of IVF. That may not sound like much, but it amounted to 97,000 babies in 2021 alone. That’s nearly 100,000 children who would not be alive today without this technology. 

While it’s true that Alabama’s IVF ruling only applies to one state, it wasn’t long ago that constitutionally protected abortion was the law of the land — until it wasn’t. Not surprisingly, the Alabama high court’s decision quickly became a political talking point. Democrats decried the GOP’s anti-abortion agenda, and even some Republicans stated their support for IVF. But many in the GOP — including former President Donald Trump — have remained notably silent, and others defended the Alabama ruling. Most notably, GOP presidential contender Nikki Haley, who has used artificial insemination, insisted to NBC News that all embryos are “babies” (though she subsequently told CNN she did not agree with the court’s decision).

From a political perspective, the threat to IVF is a sure-fire loser for Republicans. As Haley’s hemming and hawing suggests, the Alabama decision puts party officials in the impossible position of trying to satisfy the demands of their extreme followers without alienating the vast majority of Americans who oppose them.

But forget the politics. Ultimately, IVF has no business being a political issue. It’s a miracle of modern science — that quite obviously benefits both Republicans and Democrats, as well as pro-choice Americans and those who call themselves pro-life.

Any parent will tell you that raising children is not without its challenges. But it’s also a deeply meaningful and joyful experience — and without IVF, millions of parents would never know it. I can attest to that — I’m one of those parents. To place the rights of a collection of cells over the possibility of  bringing a wanted and loved child into the world is not just appalling; it’s incomprehensible. Without IVF, my daughter — and all the joy she brings to the world — would not exist. 

How is that pro-life?