Politics and Personhood: The IVF Challenge

The science of IVF is inconvenient for both parties’ political goals.

By Liliana Zylstra


Are human embryos, created through IVF, children? According to the Alabama Supreme Court, the answer is yes. While abortion has long been a contentious issue, the ethical questions associated with in-vitro fertilization or IVF are receiving a new level of national attention, brought on by the February court decision. Pro-choice and pro-life advocates alike are being challenged to reevaluate their moral frameworks.


The Ruling

The Alabama Supreme Court ruled in favor of a group of parents who sued a fertility clinic for the accidental deaths of their embryonic children. According to the court, under Alabama’s Wrongful Death of a Minor Act, the definition of child includes human embryos. Consistent pro-life advocates supported the ruling, acknowledging that human life, and therefore childhood and personhood, begins at conception whether it occurs naturally or through reproductive technology. However, backlash from politicians and the public has been significant. Many fear that the classification of embryos as people will make the IVF process more difficult.


What is IVF?

IVF is a common procedure for couples struggling with infertility. Fertility clinics collect egg and sperm samples from parents and create human embryos in a lab. To those couples who conceive their children this way, IVF is viewed as a miracle of science and a celebration of human life. What many don’t know is that clinics also destroy lives in the process.

To keep down costs and increase the chances of a successful pregnancy, the IVF industry relies on the death of “extra” embryos. Fertility clinics create more embryos than the number of children the parents actually desire. After genetic testing, many are considered lower quality and therefore not good candidates for implantation.

Other embryos are likely to die during the early stages of pregnancy. This risk is the reason that doctors often implant multiple embryos at a time, assuming that only one or two will survive. If they all survive and the parents don’t want multiple children at once, the “extra” embryos are killed through an abortion called a “selective reduction”.


Does IVF Require Killing?

Still other embryos are left over. They will either sit in freezers indefinitely or be destroyed. According to some estimates, there are over a million and a half embryos currently frozen in the United States. One study in the United Kingdom found that only 7% of embryos created via IVF will go on to be born alive.

Although there are many moral questions associated with IVF, the process does not inherently involve killing. After all, the whole point is to create life. Most families who use IVF value human life. Some are careful to implant every embryo that they create, treating them as the human beings that they are. Nevertheless, the industry relies on the cold, efficient destruction of human lives.

Even ethically informed parents who use IVF still can’t avoid the risk of trusting the creation of their children to a team of professionals who likely don’t share their beliefs.


Republicans Respond

During her State of the Union response earlier this month, Alabama Republican Katie Britt said that her party “strongly” supports “continued nationwide access to in-vitro fertilization.” Adding, “We want to help loving moms and dads bring precious life into this world.”

House Speaker Mike Johnson, Alabama Governor Kay Ivey, Texas Governor Greg Abbot, former President Donald Trump, and former presidential candidate Nikki Haley are among other Republicans who have either expressed unmitigated support for IVF or refused to clarify their stance on the issue.

Unfortunately for Republicans, pro-choice Democrats are paying attention. Senator Tammy Duckworth tweeted a response to Katie Britt’s speech pointing out an inconsistency in her treatment of human embryos.


Speaking in The New York Times’ podcast Matter of Opinion, journalist Carlos Lozada also pointed out that Republicans “have to decide if being pro-life means being pro-natalist which would make you pro-in-vitro or pro-personhood which would make you perhaps question in-vitro fertilization.”


Pro-Life Means Anti-Killing

The seemingly inconsistent stance of Republicans like Britt has three possible roots: ignorance of the IVF industry, political motivations, and a fundamental misunderstanding of what it means to be pro-life.

Students for Life of America conducted an online quiz about Americans’ views on IVF. They found that most pro-lifers who took the quiz supported IVF when they began it but changed their views once they learned what goes into the IVF process.

In addition to widespread ignorance of IVF practices, many pro-life Americans fail to consider what truly makes abortion and other destruction of pre-born life wrong. A sign created by a pro-life diaper company that featured prominently among marchers at the national March for Life, as well as various state marches reads “Make more babies.” As Lozada points out, pro-natalist isn’t the same as pro-life. While encouraging people to have children may be good, it is not the pro-life message.

 Whether or not people should “make more babies” is irrelevant because abortion happens once a baby already exists. Yet abortion advocates would love to take the focus off of abortion and paint pro-lifers as baby-obsessed weirdos whose goal is to force people to become parents. Signs like this make it easy for them.

A concerning number of pro-choice people fail to grasp the foundational fact of the pro-life view. Life begins at conception. Internet users frequently accuse pro-lifers of hypocrisy for not advocating the protection of human gametes. Responding to the confusion requires clarity. Pro-lifers need to communicate that abortion kills. We are not asking people to have more children, just to protect those children who are already in existence. If we don’t think and communicate clearly about abortion, we won’t think and communicate clearly about IVF either.


The Answer

Both IVF and abortion are difficult to talk about because both infertility and unplanned pregnancy can be painful and burdensome trials that real people have to face every day. Pro-life advocates empathize with the women carrying unplanned pregnancies while maintaining that abortion is not an acceptable solution to their challenges. We should also be able to empathize with the millions of couples struggling with infertility. We don’t have to accept a process that kills human beings as the answer.

The new national IVF conversation is an opportunity for pro-lifers to demonstrate that we are consistent in our value of human life. Our good faith opponents will recognize and appreciate our sincerity. The IVF discussion also allows pro-life advocates to center the scientific evidence that is foundational to our views. While many arguments for abortion focus on the bodily autonomy and life circumstances of the mother, the case of an embryo outside their mother’s body involves no such complications. The only questions to be asked are, “Is a human embryo a human being?”, and “Should we kill human beings?”

The answers to both questions are undeniably clear.


About the Author

Liliana Zylstra is a junior communication arts major at Grove City College. In addition to working as a student marketing fellow, she serves as president of the school’s Life Advocates club. Lily has canvassed for pro-life candidates and legislation in 5 different states as part of Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America’s student program. She also completed an internship with SBA’s communication department in Washington, D.C., during the summer of 2023.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed are those of the writer alone and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Grove City College, the Institute for Faith and Freedom, or their affiliates.