Men need fertility treatments just as much as women, writes Lee Rubin Collins, so “personhood” amendments are about their rights, too.
It used to be that people with infertility lived under a cloud of stigma and shame. People denigrated their disease, dismissing their heartbreaking inability to have children as a mere lifestyle choice.
For those of us in the infertility community, we look back on that as “the good ol’ days.”
Today, being merely misunderstood would be welcome, because what we with infertility are actually facing is an all-out war. Extremists, and let’s just call them what they are, religious extremists, have decided that the medical treatment many of us with infertility need to use—in vitro fertilization, or IVF—is immoral, and they are trying to stop it.
The scary thing is they have power and they’re using it.
This year, we have faced a war against IVF unlike anything I’ve ever seen. Almost half the states in this country introduced bills or saw ballot initiative drives to enact laws that would severely restrict if not outlaw IVF.
Why? The main effort is the latest tactic of the anti-abortion movement: pass laws that give legal rights to newly fertilized eggs. This tactic is commonly referred to as “personhood,” a gentle-sounding term for a crazily extreme position. The idea is that if microscopic embryos are declared by law to be “persons” who have the same legal rights to life as other persons, then they can’t be aborted because that would be murder.
The downstream consequences are every bit as extreme as the personhood concept is in the first place. If fertilized eggs are people, then embryonic stem cell research is murder. So, too, are many forms of birth control, since they may work after the egg has been fertilized and thus has rights (despite being located in a woman’s fallopian tube and being regularly discharged onto sanitary pads all across America).
But the most ironic consequence is that American couples who are trying to have children could be prevented from becoming pregnant and having families—because the medical treatment they need, IVF, can involve a loss of microscopic embryos, and that could not be countenanced.
Some of these personhood battles have made it into the national media. Colorado put a personhood amendment before its voters in 2008 and 2010; it was defeated both times by a 2-to-1 margin. Then they tried it in Mississippi, where personhood was polling at 80% approval in October, 2011. But after grassroots opponents and national media shined a spotlight on the consequences of embryo personhood, even conservative pro-life Mississippians felt embryo personhood went too far and in November voted it down 58 to 42%.
Legislators introducing “personhood” bills have provoked pitched battles in Georgia, North Dakota, and Arizona, among other states. These were extremely close calls—while each was ultimately defeated or abandoned, they were all poised to pass until the eleventh hour. RESOLVE: The National Infertility Association took the lead for infertility patients in those battles, and one thing they learned was that in many cases, Republican lawmakers are not dreaming up this crazy legislation themselves, but instead are spoon-fed it by conservative think tanks. The think tanks (and I use that term loosely; “religious edict shops” might be more fitting) channel their ideas for new laws through sympathetic senators and representatives, some of whom won’t entertain a bill amendment without first checking with their think-tank buddies.
But, despite having been defeated or abandoned in every state where it’s been tried, the weird thing about the personhood tactic is that it doesn’t go away. To the contrary, in December 2011, every Republican candidate for president except Mitt Romney signed a “Personhood Pledge” presented by Personhood USA, the political/religious group that is main proponent of these laws. Personhood bills or ballot initiatives appeared in almost half of the states in 2012. As I write this, a personhood bill just passed a House Committee in Oklahoma, 7-to-4, and has a good chance of passing in the House and becoming law. In Naperville, IL, protesters are challenging a city permit for an infertility clinic on the grounds they don’t want to approve a medical setting where children are “manufactured” like a commodity. At least one group has threatened a regular protest outside of the clinic (a clinic that will, I should remind you, help couples have babies) the way they do outside abortion clinics.
So the question I have is this: Will men stand up to protect access to infertility treatment? When we face these battles, the typical infertility contingent is several reproductive endocrinologists, usually all male, and a posse of infertility patients, usually all female. But keeping IVF legal is not a woman’s issue. Infertility strikes about as many men as women, and a key treatment to overcome male factor infertility, intracytoplasmic sperm injection, or ICSI, is not possible if IVF is illegal or if the threats of prison or lawsuits over “killing” embryos cause all the infertility doctors to leave the state.
So, men, please write that letter to the editor of your newspaper, send letters to your state lawmakers, and call RESOLVE or other advocacy groups fighting against these so-called “personhood” measures. You’ve seen it and we’ve seen it: when an issue is only about women, it can get written off. When men are as incensed as women over this naked attempt to impede or outlaw IVF, we reduce the chance that embryos will gain legal rights to the size it should be: microscopic.
Photo credit: Flickr / Grace Herbert