Roe v Wade: ‘Could abortion bans put my IVF at risk?’

by | Aug 8, 2023 | Health

Julie EshelmanBy Lebo DisekoGlobal Religion CorrespondentOne year after the US Supreme Court overturned Roe v Wade – a landmark ruling on abortion rights – some IVF patients are worried that potential new laws could jeopardise their fertility treatment. Some women are even considering moving their frozen embryos across state lines.Julie Eshelman has had a long and difficult journey trying to build her family. “My husband and I were married in 2015,” she tells me. “We naively decided that we wanted to wait a year before we started having kids. In 2016, we started trying and after six months, I was like: ‘This isn’t working, maybe there’s something wrong.'”And so began years of fertility tests, treatment, three miscarriages, and many tears. Finally, in June 2021 she had a baby girl. “We now have a beautiful, feisty spunky two-year-old daughter,” she says, her voice lifting.But when Julie and her husband decided to try for a second child, things got complicated. The US Supreme Court had just overturned the 1973 Roe v Wade ruling – this means women no longer have a national right to an abortion. Individual states can now ban or restrict access to terminations and in the process of rewriting the rules, some lawmakers drew up legislation defining life as beginning at fertilisation. This has thrown up crucial questions for fertility treatment. “If they say that life starts at conception what does that mean for an IVF embryo?” asks Julie.During IVF (in vitro fertilisation), eggs are typically collected from a woman’s ovaries, fertilised in a laboratory, then screened. Some healthy embryos are transferred to the womb and others can be frozen for future use. Any that aren’t considered viable or are not used may be destroyed. Getty ImagesBut if life is considered to start at the moment of fertilisation, doctors and patients like Julie fear this could have implications for the IVF process. At the time of the Supreme Court decision, Julie was getting ready to move to Pennsylvania because of her husband’s job in the military. She was worried about a proposed bill there that she feared could have had consequences for embryo storage and IVF. She felt the risk was too great and decided to leave her embryos in the Democrat controlled state of Illinois, where she had had her last IVF cycle, until she knew the outcome of the Pennsylvania vote.She says the decision to wait added at least six extra months to her IVF treatment, delaying what was already a lengthy, stressful and expensive process. Next year her family will have to move again when her husband is redeployed. Julie doesn’t know where they will be asked to move to or what the laws will be there. She worries that delays could affect her chances of a successful pregnancy.When does life begin?Legislation defining life as beginning at conception or fertilisation is sometimes called a “personhood law”, because it confers the rights of a person on a foetus or embryo. There were 20 personhood bills introduced in the US this year, according to The Center for Reproductive Rights. None were passed into law, but campaigners fear that similar legislation could pass in the future. Two states – Georgia and Arizona – currently have language in their abortion bans which reproductive rights advocates say effectively establishes foetal personhood.Dr Natalie Crawford is a fertility doctor in the state of Texas, which has a near-total abortion ban. She says that many of these bills are written by people who do not have a medical background, using words such as “fertilisation” and “implantation” which have a very specific meaning in a scientific context.Getty Images”When somebody writes these words, with the mindset of t …

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