For the future of IVF (in vitro fertilization) in North Dakota, the consequences of passing Measure 1 are clear and immediate: If Measure 1 passes, IVF in North Dakota ends.
It is not a possibility or a probability; it is a certainty.
The folks pushing Measure 1 want you to think the measure is about abortion and nothing else, but that’s pure fiction. The real goal for Measure 1 proponents is to enshrine so-called “personhood” in the North Dakota Constitution. The wording of the measure is vague: The inalienable right to life of every human being at any stage of development must be recognized and protected.
It’s the “at any stage of development” part that makes it personhood. The intent of the measure is to expand human rights to encompass giving fertilized eggs the same rights as people.
But back to the terrible consequence of shutting down the highly regarded IVF program currently in the state of North Dakota. It is because of IVF that more than a thousand babies have been born to North Dakota couples who faced infertility – just about the typical population of a North Dakota small town. And that number grows each month, in part because the IVF doctors travel to several communities in the state, traveling as far as Williston to see patients. And make no mistake, there are couples with infertility problems all across North Dakota. In fact, national fertility specialist Dr. Daniel Shapiro said in a 2012 CNN interview that infertility is a problem for “about 1 in 8 American couples.”
That statistic is greater than most of us might guess, but in thinking about it, don’t most of us have family members or friends or the children of friends who have become parents through IVF? We’ve seen the happiness of those couples in becoming parents and their gratefulness to the North Dakota physicians who made it possible. Frankly, to deny that opportunity to other North Dakota couples seems about as anti-family as anything can be.
Last legislative session, North Dakota’s IVF physicians testified that they could not continue to practice if personhood became law. Legislators chose not to listen, but that did not make what the physicians said any less true. Because the technical work of IVF includes bringing eggs and sperm together outside a woman’s body and working with the resulting embryos, no medical practice, laboratory or institution could take the chance of being legally liable for “killing” a fertilized egg. (Remember a human egg is much smaller than a speck of dust and sperm, smaller yet.) It also is standard medical procedure to create more embryos than can be returned to the uterus, since many will have abnormalities incompatible with life. Under Measure 1, however, an abnormally fertilized egg that has no chance of growing into a healthy baby would be legally protected. What sense would there be in knowingly transferring an embryo that would result in a miscarriage?
Healthy embryos not used can be frozen for future attempts at IVF if the first IVF cycle does not work. Or, if implantation and pregnancy are successful but later the couple hopes to have another child, frozen embryos can be used.
The toll on a woman’s body is too great and the chance of success in achieving pregnancy too small if – as some Measure 1 proponents have suggested – only the few embryos to be implanted that cycle are created. It also would be devastating to cancer patients who would have no chance of preserving their fertility. And the criminal danger of a laboratory accident would remain. But most importantly, North Dakota physicians would not be giving their patients the best chance at becoming parents.
If Measure 1 passes, IVF will no longer be available in North Dakota. That’s a fact that should disturb North Dakotans.
Ahlin writes a Sunday column for The Forum. Email firstname.lastname@example.org