At this year’s March for Life, the pro-life movement celebrated the Supreme Court’s decision overturning Roe v. Wade and then shifted its sights from the Court to legislatures, where intense battles remain.
With Roe gone, the ongoing war to protect life is being fought on new fronts. One key battleground is in vitro fertilization (IVF). This is the process whereby ova are fertilized with sperm in a laboratory rather than in a woman’s body. The resulting live embryo is then implanted in the biological mother or a surrogate. For those who believe that life begins at conception, IVF is morally troubling indeed.
Preliminary data from the CDC report that “there were 326,468 assisted reproductive technology (ART) cycles performed at 449 reporting clinics in the United States during 2020, resulting in … 79,942 live born infants.” This is about 2 percent of all births in the United States. To date, over one million babies have been born using IVF. Another one million embryos are frozen.
So, what’s the big deal? The Pro-Life movement, accused of “forced pregnancies” and rejecting a “woman’s right to choose,” should endorse any method that leads to the birth of children, right? Not so fast. As Kristan Hawkins, president of Students for Life argues, “The issue was not whether we want people to create families (we’re the pro-life movement—we love babies) but whether creating disposable children, a common event with IVF, is a good idea.”
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They are “disposable” babies due to common IVF practices like embryo destruction, freezing, genetic testing, and genetic editing.
Let’s take embryo destruction. IVF is an attractive option for couples who are struggling with infertility, same-sex couples, and single persons. To raise their odds of success, doctors create multiple embryos. After testing them for genetic problems or physical traits, they then destroy the “unfit” embryos. The remaining embryos are either implanted or frozen.
Embryo freezing serves many purposes. In each case, it allows men and women to delay childbearing beyond normal limits. Stories like the embryos created in 1992 but not born until 30 years later will only become more common. Still, many don’t realize that only 53% of defrosted embryos result in a live birth.
When it comes to genetic testing, preimplantation genetic testing (PGD) is the most common approach. PGD tests for chromosomal disorders, like Down Syndrome, and single-gene disorders like sickle cell disorder, Tay-Sachs, and cystic fibrosis. It is also used to test for nonmedical traits like the sex of the embryo, skin color, or eye color. 92% of ART clinics offer PGD; 73% of them offer it explicitly for sex-selection.
Following testing, doctors routinely destroy the embryos suspected of carrying traits the parents deem undesirable. If they’re hoping for a male baby, out go the female embryos. Embryos with a treatable disease like cystic fibrosis face a similar fate.
Genetic editing takes this process one step further. PGD tests and selects embryos based on the best combination that naturally occurred. Editing, however, alters the very makeup of an embryo. It can be used to change an embryo’s IQ, physical ability, or the ability to contract a disease. As technology develops, the possibilities are endless.
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After all of this, children born from IVF have higher rates of autism, cancer, and minor birth issues like cleft palate. As bioethicist Oliver O’Donovan argues, “There is a world of difference between accepting the risk of a disabled child (where that risk is imposed upon us by nature) and ourselves imposing that risk in pursuit of our own purposes.”
What message are we sending future generations of children? Will we love children as they are? Or will they grow up knowing that their parent(s) selected them because they fit the mold of a desirable child? A culture that values and protects life is one where parents submit their own wishes to the wellbeing of children. That includes children who do not exist yet.
For these reasons, IVF, as it’s practiced today, is not pro-life. The practices and methods commonly used violate the integrity of pre-born children.
Rather than accept children as gifts, IVF treats children like products to be bought, sold, or designed. Worse, it destroys embryos that are deemed not good enough. Any practice that destroys or subverts innocent human life, even at the earliest stages, is at odds with pro-life principles.
This piece originally appeared in World Magazine