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Expendable lives

Abortion and IVF share the same adult-centric priorities

A pro-abortion protestor holds a sign outside the South Carolina Statehouse in Columbia, S.C., on July 7, 2022. Associated Press/Photo by Meg Kinnard

Expendable lives
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Last month, Democratic senators Tammy Duckworth, Patty Murray, and Susan Wild unveiled their Access to Family Building Act to protect “access to fertility treatments.” The bill essentially recognizes an adult's “right” to IVF treatments and to procure the gametes of a third party in the name of “family building.” It would also permit the Department of Justice to punish any state, government official, individual, or entity that attempts to curtail anyone—single, married, gay, straight, fertile, or infertile—from accessing this “reproductive care.”

The impetus for such a bill? In a press release, Duckworth said the act is urgent due to the erosion of abortion protections.

Since the Supreme Court threw out Roe v. Wade, our nation has seen a wave of Republican-led states not only enacting strict abortion bans that severely limit their residents’ right to access basic reproductive care—but also pushing proposals that would jeopardize access to IVF and other assisted reproductive technologies that millions of Americans need to start or grow their families.

If you talk to ordinary pro-lifers, few would associate expanding IVF access as a threat to their work against abortion. But Duckworth and a host of progressive voices understand the inherent connection between the industry committed to terminating new life and the industry manufacturing new life.

No sooner had the Dobbs decision been released than a variety of fertility doctors in red states detailed how their #BigFertility business would be threatened if state law recognized life as beginning at conception. Fertility doctor Natalie Crawford explained on then-Twitter:

Why are IVF and abortion tightly linked? IVF came into existence in a Roe world (Roe had been around almost 10 years before the first IVF baby). Roe allowed IVF. ... When we protect reproductive rights we inherently say that embryos are not autonomous and can’t exist independently. This means that we don’t grant embryos rights. This means I am allowed to utilize reproductive technology to help people get pregnant. Because I can fertilize eggs, freeze embryos, test embryos, and transfer/discard embryos. This is essential for safe, accessible and effective IVF care. IVF is a tool that allows so many babies to be born. The fear is that when Roe is overturned states will then individually decide their stance on this matter / and personhood bills threaten this. If life begins legally at fertilization—then we are limited in the above technology.

While it’s true that IVF “allows so many babies to be born,” Crawford avoids the more damning reality that, due to the “freezing, testing, transferring and discarding” she says is critical to her business, only a fraction of the babies she is manufacturing survive the process. According to other clinic numbers, only 7  percent of lab-created children will be born alive. Writing at Public Discourse, Stephen Austin explains that “... in 2019 out of a million embryos involved in IVF cycles, 84,000 made it to term—the remaining 900,000 did not. By comparison, in the same year, the CDC reported 629,898 abortions.”

Both abortion and reproductive technologies determine a child’s rights based on whether the child is wanted.

By the numbers, the baby-making industry is responsible for the destruction of more little lives than the baby-taking industry.

This should not come as a shock to pro-lifers. The same mentality and talking points are at work in both the push for abortion and the push for reproductive technologies. What mentality is that? That children exist for adults, not the other way around.

My nonprofit, Them Before Us, often explains that abortion and reproductive technologies—including IVF and sperm/egg “donors”—are two sides of the same child-commodifying coin.

Both abortion and reproductive technologies determine a child’s rights based on whether the child is wanted. Abortion advocates say that if children are unwanted, you can force them out of existence even if it violates their right to life. Advocates of IVF and third-party reproduction often say that if children are very wanted, you can force them into existence even if it violates some children’s right to life and some children's right to their mother and father.

Both abortion and reproductive technologies are adult-centric. Those who favor “abortion on demand without apology” measure success by whether the adults are happy at the end of the procedure, not by whether the child’s body remains intact. Those who pursue IVF/donor conception measure success by whether the adults are happy at the end of the procedure, not by whether some child's body and/or relationship to his or her biological parents remains intact.

Advocating for both abortion and IVF is only possible with an adult-centric narrative. The focus is on the adults’ dreams, hopes, longings, suffering, fear, and desires. The child is then required to accommodate adult feelings by sacrificing their right to life and/or their right to one or both biological parents. In both industries, children must be regarded as objects of rights, not subjects of rights.

Not so for Christians. We are charged with child protection. Therefore, it's critical that we understand not only the shared ideological foundations of both the baby-taking and baby-making industries but also carry those child-centric convictions into the realm of policy.

Progressives understand the connection between abortion and IVF clearly. What do they understand that many Christians miss?

Katy Faust

Katy Faust is founder and president of Them Before Us, a global movement that defends children’s right to their mother and father. She publishes and testifies widely on why marriage and family are matters of justice for children, and is a regular contributor at the Federalist. Katy helped design the teen edition of the Witherspoon Institute’s CanaVox which studies sex, marriage, and relationships from a natural law perspective. She and her pastor husband are raising their four children in Seattle.

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