And today, virtually no one debates the ethics of in-vitro fertilization.
Stem cell research is “controversial,” while in-vitro fertilization is not. This is rarely mentioned.
Well, yes and no. Anti-choicers are able to keep stem cell research controversial by linking it—erroneously—to abortion, instead of linking it correctly to in-vitro fertilization. Stem cells are all harvested from embryos that are created for in-vitro fertilization and then not used, often because the parents had a successful pregnancy or two and had no reason to keep implanting the leftover embryos. It’s telling that abortion and IVF have the same result, in terms of embryonic death, but abortion is far more controversial. That’s because abortion is not about fetal life so much as about female sexual behavior. IVF is less controversial because it’s about women going through heroic measures to have babies like good, proper women, and that makes everyone all squishy.
But make no mistake: anti-choicers are out to ban IVF. Part of it is that they think by establishing that no embryo ever should die, they can successfully lay ruin to women’s basic human rights. They’re right on this—once you start to assume that even fertilized eggs are the same as children, then basically women’s lives have to be severely constricted because any sexually active straight woman could have a “baby” floating around inside her and not know it. It’s less about making embryos people than giving women status lower than that of people. In countries with strict anti-choice laws and in Catholic hospitals, women are actually barred from getting life-saving medical treatment if there’s a provable embryo or fetus in play. Ectopic pregnancies aren’t removed until they burst, so the doctor doesn’t kill a “person” that was never going to come into being anyway. Women who have miscarriages that haven’t completed on their own are left to get horrible infections—ones that have a high fatality rate—rather than let the doctor finish what’s an inevitable process of termination. And of course, faux concern for zygotes is used as a cover to demand that we ban the birth control pill. All this sends a signal to women that they have a lower social status than sperm.
I’ve also always been of the opinion that anti-choicers don’t like IVF because they have a general hostility to medical science, and also because they have a very specific model of pregnancy and its place in the patriarchal world, and IVF undermines that. They just prefer a world where pregnancy is the result of women being extremely passive, particularly in relationships with men, and IVF just smacks too much of women taking control over their fertility. It’s not so much about “life”, because IVF is the only fertility treatment that social conservatives object to. They also object to sperm donation. Basically, I think they see sexual intercourse as a matter of men laying claim to and possessing women, and pregnancy is the evidence of male power. And fertility treatments destabilize that model, so they object to them.
IVF is controversial enough that it’s facing down a potential ban in Colorado this election. It’s unlikely to pass, but ballot initiative 62 in Colorado would define fertilized eggs as “persons”, and the result, if it passes, is a likely ban on IVF, as well as banning many procedures that have to be done to pregnant women to save their health or lives, such as removing ectopic pregnancies and performing D&Cs on women who have incomplete miscarriages. Anti-choicers are also hoping to angle it as leverage towards a ban on the birth control pill, even though there’s no real evidence that the pill works by expelling fertilized eggs. Taken to its logical conclusion, laws like this could also be used to restrict women’s movements, employment, and create criminal investigations into miscarriages.
It’s true that in the rational U.S., the idea that IVF is controversial is a joke. But sadly, a lot of the country is in the thrall of the sadistically irrational.