Exploring the connection between fertility treatment and reproductive freedom

Couples using in vitro fertilization treatments and the fertility clinics that provide them demonstrate the most profound commitment to life. They make the idea of starting a family achievable for everyone, granting couples who struggle to conceive the gift of their own baby.

However, the recent ruling from the Alabama Supreme Court affirming that their state law provides the same legal protections to embryos as children caused some clinics to pause treatment. Couples who have been undergoing treatment for years and spent five to six figures on this care must now put their dreams on hold as clinics sort through the legality of their service in accordance with this decision.

As two legislators who have faced fertility hurdles in our own families, we cannot stand idly by as the miraculous service of IVF goes under attack.

Rep. Jennifer O’Mara: How the debate on personhood could affect IVF access

My 19-month-old daughter, Katherine, was conceived through IVF due to my husband Brad's fertility issues resulting from injuries he suffered while serving in Afghanistan. It’s a painful process, both physically and emotionally, to hold out hope after every injection, egg retrieval procedure, and embryo transfer. The prospect of parenthood feels within reach, but results are never guaranteed.

Pregnancies can fail. Brad and I lost three embryos before having Katherine. This outcome is devastating, but not uncommon. This can happen for a variety of reasons – such as underlying medical issues or simply a biological implantation failure – but it’s no one’s fault. According to the Alabama ruling though, a legal gray area now exists within the state where wrongful death lawsuits could have legitimate grounding. These doctors are now afraid to help couples conceive and give them the family they’ve been trying for.

This hits closer to home than many Pennsylvanians may realize. In 2021, legislation passed the Pennsylvania House that granted similar rights of personhood to embryos. The former House Bill 118 would require death certificates and funeral arrangements for loss of pregnancy at any stage. This would require heartbroken parents, including those undergoing IVF, to name their failed pregnancies, because in order to file a death certificate a name is required, and then choose between burial or cremation for the embryo. This bill not only sought to impose unnecessary burdens on grieving parents, but also add undue stress and constraints on medical practitioners striving to provide the best care possible.

Rep. La'Tasha D. Mayes: Fertility treatments assist LGBTQ+ couples with family planning

As an advocate for reproductive rights, health, and justice, and a new mother to 6-month-old baby Charlotte with my partner Heather, I’m working to ensure that all families trying for a child can access the high-quality fertility care they need here in Pennsylvania.

Each year, IVF assists in more than 500,000 deliveries. This ruling from the Alabama Supreme Court contributes to the reproductive health care crisis, which continues to worsen since the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Americans’ constitutional right to an abortion. More so, this ruling virtually eliminates the primary option for members of the LGBTQ+ community to have a biological family.

According to the Family Equality Council, nearly half of LGBTQ+ adults ages 18 to 35 plan to expand their families, and 1.6 million consider IVF and other fertility services as a viable option.

Attacking access to IVF isn’t just an attack on reproductive rights, health, justice, and women. It’s also a direct attack on the LGBTQ+ community.

IVF provides Americans with more choices on how they expand their families, and we should work to support health care services that provide us all with the freedom to decide the pathway to form our families.

Working together to protect IVF

What’s unfolding in Alabama reminds us why fertility services need legislative backing. We are introducing the PARENT Act with our colleagues Reps. Steve Malagari, D-Montgomery, and Tarik Khan, D-Phila., which would preserve prospective parents’ rights to fertility treatments while simultaneously protecting providers who perform this care.

Additionally, we introduced the Preserving Fertility for Patients Act. This would provide health insurance coverage for IVF and other fertility services for Pennsylvanians with cancer and illnesses that require them to make a decision about their fertility prior to treatment. This is how we combat these attacks.

Measures like these have historically earned bipartisan support. Former Vice President Mike Pence spoke publicly on how him and his wife utilized IVF, and how fertility treatments “deserve the protection of the law.”

Advocating for women's autonomy over their bodies involves supporting comprehensive reproductive health care. Being pro-choice means empowering individuals to determine their reproductive futures, including maintaining access to services such as IVF. We're advocating in Harrisburg for inclusive reproductive health care that upholds the right of every Pennsylvanian to start a family.