Pro-Life Concerns About IVF Include Abortion, Exploitation

Bioethics   |   Kristan Hawkins   |   Sep 6, 2011   |   3:14PM   |   Washington, DC

In vitro fertilization (IVF) isn’t a topic that often crops up in pro-life circles, but I think it’s important to highlight this as an issue that affects the movement directly and has a profound impact on the way we view the dignity and value of every human life, both in and outside the womb.

The infertility industry in the United States has been a booming industry for decades, including the multi-billion dollar business of egg donation. Young girls are showered with provocative ads promising big checks and the satisfaction of helping others who aren’t able create a family by simply donating her eggs. But the lesser-publicized side of this seemingly selfless act include the deception behind coercing young donors for their eggs, exposing them to the sometimes lifelong damaging methods of extracting them, hormone overdoses, unsafe medical practices, lack of informing women of health risks attached to donating, and, all to often, no follow-up care at all. I urge anyone interested in learning more about the risks and hazards of egg donation to check out Eggsploitation, a documentary that exposes the industry’s dirty little secret.

Invitro FertilizationSimilar to egg donation, IVF comes with its own unique set of risks. Many people have replaced the truth about IVF’s damaging and destructive processes with the widely-accepted notion that conceiving via IVF helps couples with fertility problems, promotes the growth and importance of a family unit, and finally allows struggling parents to enjoy the blessing of a child or children.

And it can do all those things.

BUT it doesn’t come without a cost. And I don’t just mean its hefty $5,000 – $25,000 price tag.

Here are some talking points on this controversial issue that tend to slip through the cracks:

  1. 1. IVF promotes the discarding of “extra” human embryos – or developing humans, in layman’s terms.

IVF usually entails the creation of multiple human embryos to ensure a greater chance of successful implantation. These human embryos are then screened for genetic disorders, handicaps and sometimes even a particular gender. The “undesirable” embryos are discarded. Normally, an IVF practitioner transfers around four of the selected embryos into a woman’s uterus. If more than one (or two) successfully implant, a physician will selectively abort (kill) the remaining embryos (Nadya “Octomom” Suleman refused this “embryonic discarding”, resulting in her delivering octuplets). This selective mentality leads to the death of little humans based on their gender, physical and mental handicaps, and how many exist simultaneously.  This segues into the second point:

  1. 2. IVF fosters the idea that we can have whatever we want, whenever we want, however we want it.

A article from June highlights the life of Anthony Caruso, a former IVF practitioner who was horrified when he realized that his efforts to help women struggling with infertility was actually counterintuitive to the design of  marriage and the view of children. Caruso points out that IVF works against the self-sacrificial nature of a marriage and a family, putting an IVF practitioner and, ultimately, a conceiving couple in control of something meant to have a natural design. This is echoed in a New York Times cover story about a woman named “Jenny” who aborts one of her twins conceived after IVF. “Had the pregnancy occurred naturally, she said, ‘I wouldn’t have reduced this pregnancy, because you feel like if there’s a natural order, then you don’t want to disturb it.’ Nevertheless, ‘The pregnancy was all so consumerish to begin with, and this became yet another thing we could control.’”

Both points illustrate the statistic that:

  1. 3. IVF often results in the conception of multiples, which in turn results in selective abortions after implantation, as well as a dangerous situation for both mother and children when the number of children who implant is unnaturally high.

I referenced the “Octomom” above, who refused to allow her IVF practitioner to discard of “extra” fertilized embryos selectively. Kate Gosselin of Jon and Kate Plus 8 fame had a similar situation, and, thankfully, both mothers refused to kill any of their children, thus bearing octuplets and sextuplets, respectively. Suleman and Gosselin by no means followed the status quo when it came to multiple implantations resulting in IFV. All too often, the unchosen embryos are destroyed, thrown out, or washed down the sink. Additionally, a mother pregnant with multiple children is naturally put in the category of high-risk pregnancy. Therefore, even if a pro-life woman refusing selective abortion carries all IVF-created children, this unnaturally creates a dangerous situation for herself and her babies.

  1. 4. IVF has proven to lead to an array of physical and mental birth defects.

Illinois Right to Life released a story on IVF, noting a study done by the New England Medical Journal which showed evidence that babies conceived by IVF have a 1 in 10 risk of birth defects – twice the rate of babies born naturally – including holes in their hearts, the development of only one kidney, brain abnormalities, and cleft lips and palettes. Studies by researchers at Johns Hopkins and Washington University discovered that children conceived from IVF have a six-fold increase in risk of Beckwith-Wiedemann syndrome, which causes malformations and cancer. This fact alone should cause us to question the morality of IVF.

  1. 5. Prepping for IVF requires significant alterations to hormone levels, which can lead to or increase the risk of health problems.

Many women need to undergo hormone therapy before and during IVF to prepare their bodies to accept the implanted embryo. Estrogen levels are usually boosted during IVF (as well as natural pregnancies) to strengthen the endometrial wall of the uterus. There are a slew of chemical-related side effects that come with a number of the hormone therapies used, but simply altering hormone levels alone can come with consequences. Having high levels of estrogen can cause irregular periods, depression, uterine fibroids, osteoporosis, memory loss, and infections.

With all this in mind, the pro-life movement does not want to stamp out any hope for couples struggling to conceive. As always, all people – born or pre-born – deserve respect, dignity and love.

And this is an issue that hits close to home for me. My oldest son, Gunner was born with cystic fibrosis and will battle a number of health problems his whole life. 97% of men with CF are infertile, and many of them were born without fully developed reproductive systems. Gunner’s infertility will affect the lives of himself, his future wife and whatever grandchildren I may be blessed with in the future forever. Many people with CF choose IVF to combat low fertility rates and start a family, but it can’t be accepted as a band-aid for the natural design of our lives.

One major breakthrough that exists in monitoring and maintaining women’s reproductive health is NaProTECHNOLOGY (Natural Procreative Technology), a medical and surgical alternative that has been proven effective to treat infertility, ovarian cysts, polycystic ovarian disease, repetitive miscarriage, and hormonal imbalances among other health complications. NaProTECHNOLOGY monitors women’s hormonal events during the menstrual cycle and identifies when gynecological systems operate abnormally, identifying the problems which may be able to be corrected.

State-of-the-art advancements like this along with education and resources will go a long way in maintaining reproductive health in women and protecting the rights of the preborn. And let’s not forgot the beautiful, loving and moral option of adoption. Both NaProTECHNOLOGY and adoption provide ethical alternatives to the dangers and ethical problems with IVF.