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Anti-abortion extremists in the US are waging a holy war against women | IVF

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Anti-abortion extremists in the US are waging a holy war against women | IVF

The Week in Patriarchy

Republicans aren’t content with just forcing women to give birth, they are intent on controlling all facets of reproductive healthcare, as we’re seeing in Alabama

Sat 24 Feb 2024 09.00 EST

The holy war on IVF

Friends, Romans, frozen extrauterine children, lend me your ears. Except for the extrauterine children, that is – they obviously don’t have ears. Nor do they have fully formed brains, nervous systems or organs. Nevertheless, according to Alabama’s supreme court – in a decision which has which paved the way for two wrongful death suits to proceed against a fertility clinic – frozen embryos are “children” and should be treated as such.

So what does this mean? Well, in the immediate term it means that if you’re going through fertility treatments in Alabama your life just got upended. Numerous embryos tend to be created and then frozen during the IVF process because it maximizes the chances of success, is more cost-effective and reduces the health risks of the procedure. Surplus embryos are then disposed of or donated. If every frozen embryo is suddenly deemed a child, it means that disposing of the embryo – or having a machine malfunction and accidentally ruin an embryo – would be a criminal act. It even throws into question the standard practice of freezing embryos. After all, you wouldn’t stick a child in a freezer, would you?

In short, a handful of Republican judges in Alabama have effectively made IVF too legally dangerous to practice in the state. Already at least three fertility providers in Alabama have said that they are pausing IVF because of the risks. This is unbelievably cruel to people currently going through fertility treatments that, even in the best of times, can take a major emotional, physical and financial toll.

While the Alabama decision is unprecedented and shocking, it’s far from surprising. It has been clear for a while now that IVF could be at real risk because of anti-abortion extremists. Several “personhood” bills, which define life as beginning at the moment of fertilization have been introduced across the US, resulting in a mess of thorny legal questions about what it means to treat fertilized eggs, embryos and fetuses as people. For example: can you claim a fetus as a dependent on your tax return? In Georgia, which has a fetal personhood law, you can! Pregnant people can also drive in the high-occupancy lane, which requires two or more passengers, to be in the car. The Alabama ruling is a major victory for the growing fetal personhood movement: expect IVF to come under scrutiny in many more states.

But hang on a minute, you might say. I thought all these anti-abortion activists wanted more kids in the world. Why would they force people who don’t want children to give birth and then also try and strip fertility treatments from people who desperately want children?

There are a lot of answers to this question. The politest one is that many of the people arguing that embryos are people have zero understanding of reproductive medicine. Certainly the Alabama supreme court justices seem more concerned with theology than biology. Their ruling seems to have been heavily influenced by the Bible and repeatedly references God and biblical scholars. Chief Justice Thomas Parker, for example, wrote: “Human life cannot be wrongfully destroyed without incurring the wrath of a holy God … even before birth, all human beings bear the image of God, and their lives cannot be destroyed without effacing his glory.” (If this is true, by the way, then God must have incurred a lot of wrath towards Alabama: the state has one of the highest execution rates in the US and recently made headlines for executing a prisoner with nitrogen gas, an untested method that the UN has condemned as cruel.)

While IVF care in Alabama is currently in a state of turmoil, there is some good news. A few prominent Republicans, spooked by the fallout from the Alabama ruling have gone into damage control mode and are trying to get the law’s impact on IVF clarified. Even Donald Trump has stepped in to say he supports IVF. The Alabama attorney general’s office has also said it won’t prosecute IVF families or providers. Still, that’s little comfort when you look at the bigger picture: Republicans aren’t content with just forcing women to give birth, they are intent on controlling all facets of reproductive healthcare. Bill by bill, ruling after ruling, the anti-abortion movement in America is chipping away at everything from access to fertility treatments to birth control. There may be a lot of uncertainty around the ruling in Alabama but one thing is very clear: anti-abortion extremists in the US are waging a holy war against women.

The weird way Alabama’s embryo ruling takes on artificial wombs

The Alabama ruling specifies that an embryo is a child “regardless of its location”. As the MIT Technology Review notes: “This could have implications for future technologies in development, such as artificial wombs or synthetic embryos made from stem cells.” The ruling doesn’t just threaten current fertility treatment, it threatens the future of reproductive technology.

Nikki Haley tries to walk back comments on Alabama ruling

“I mean, embryos, to me, are babies,” Haley told NBC following the Alabama ruling. After realizing this may not have been the smartest thing to say for her hopeless presidential election campaign, she walked the comments back and said that she didn’t mean to imply she agreed with Alabama’s supreme court.

Some landlords are enforcing no-sex clauses

Vice takes a look at the British landlords who don’t want unwed tenants having sex. (RIP to Vice, which has become the latest media company to announce mass layoffs and will stop publishing on its site.)

Can AI porn be ethical?

Betteridge’s law of headlines states: “Any headline that ends in a question mark can be answered by the word no.” I’m not sure this fascinating piece in the Guardian is an exception.

New York governor apologizes after implying Israel is justified to destroy Gaza

Did you perhaps labor under the delusion that women are always more compassionate leaders than men? Kathy Hochul is here to disabuse you of that notion! The New York governor seems to think that dead and starving children in Gaza are something to laugh about and made a joke at a recent event in New York suggesting Israel was right to destroy Gaza. She’s now apologized. Still, I urge Hochul to spend some time looking at the devastating videos coming out of Gaza and ask herself why she thinks it’s OK to make light of a situation so traumatizing that kids as young as five have told aid workers they want to die.

Searching for a ‘male’ and ‘female’ brain is a waste of time

Stanford recently generated a ton of headlines with a study that found AI can distinguish between male and female brain scans with around 90% accuracy. Neuroscientist Gina Rippon looks in the Guardian at why scientists have long been obsessed with trying “to find a nice set of biologically programmed, sex-specific differences in the brain”. Rippon stresses that there is “little or no consistent and conclusive evidence that any brain differences found can be solely attributed to biological sex. Essentialist assumptions like these have negative consequences.”

The week in pawtriarchy

It’s been a ruff week in the world of canine world records: Bobi the Portuguese mastiff has been posthumously stripped of his record as the world’s oldest ever dog due to insufficient evidence. Record or not I think we can all agree that Bobi was a very good boy.

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