It didn’t take long for the concerns over the Supreme Court overturning Roe v Wade to leap over into In-Vitro Fertilization. Some states, including Louisiana, are already contemplating laws that would define a fertilized egg as having the same rights as a live child which will definitely have the same chilling effect on IVF clinics as the escalation of anti-abortion laws at the state level has had on clinics that perform abortions.
The Catholic Churches inconsistency regarding when life begins hasn’t helped matters. Among Catholics it is NOT clear – does life begin at fertilization or at implantation ? One Catholic said, “It’s actually not disputed. For example: the official stance of the Catholic Church is that life begins at IMPLANTATION, not fertilization. Additionally, you can’t turn a pregnancy test positive without implantation. So again, many would consider ‘conception’ to mean successful implantation.”
In 2006, under Pope Benedict (before the current Pope Francis), it was affirmed during an international congress on scientific aspects and bioethical considerations of The Human Embryo Before Implantation that embryos are “sacred and inviolable” even before they become implanted in a mother’s uterus. The Pope said the Church had always proclaimed the “sacred and inviolable character of every human life, from its conception to its natural end.” adding, “This moral judgment is valid from the start of the life of an embryo, even before it is implanted in the maternal womb.”
In 2021, Washington’s Cardinal Wilton Gregory spoke at the National Press Club, during which he fielded questions about President Joe Biden’s support for abortion. “The Catholic Church teaches and has taught that life — human life — begins at conception. So the president is not demonstrating Catholic teaching in that,” Gregory said. “Catholics should take care not to believe the myths and lies that are produced by those influential individuals and institutions that want to confuse people about the true nature of abortion or who wish to exploit the bodies and lives of unborn children. For example, the myth that ‘pregnancy begins at implantation’ is a deception that has caused misunderstandings for decades.”
Another Catholic noted – Our vicar general was very confident that when the church says “conception” they are referring to implantation, per his actual priesthood teachings. But, that most Catholics assume conception means fertilization, but that isn’t correct. My discussions on this topic with him were in 2010 for reference. I know the pope said prior to that that it’s before implantation, but the actual documented definition in church literature is apparently implantation.
At the end of the day, this is splitting hairs and I’m pro-choice. But, it’s clear even the church can’t figure out a cohesive stance, and none of this is dogma anyway. Also, just because “life” begins at conception it’s doesn’t address the bodily autonomy issue (the Church doesn’t support forced organ donation to save another adults life, but they are ok with a pregnant person being forced to give up their body?).
I don’t know anyone who would say they are trying to “conceive” and mean that they are just trying to fertilize an egg. For all practical purposes, fertilization alone just isn’t conception. And these old white men can believe otherwise, but if my egg is fertilized but doesn’t implant, I would never say I conceived because I wouldn’t even know the egg was fertilized, unless I went through IVF anyway.
Leaving aside religious arguments, Wired had an article by Sarah Zhang in 2015 titled – Why Science Can’t Say When a Baby’s Life Begins with a subtitle – If anything, science has only complicated the personhood debate. The article notes – When life begins is, of course, the central disagreement that fuels the controversy over abortion.
In the 19th century, abortion in Britain was legal—until the quickening. The “quickening” was the first time a woman felt her baby’s kick, it was the moment the baby came alive, the moment it got a soul. Ultrasound imaging made quickening, a concept that had been around since at least Aristotle, a relic. In a 2012 vice presidential debate, Paul Ryan explained that after seeing their unborn daughter on ultrasound, they nicknamed her “Bean.” My husband jokes about our youngest son being “LumpT” before he was born. Ryan actually sponsored a bill for fetal personhood, giving full legal rights to a zygote after fertilization.
After fertilization, must come implantation. The fertilized egg travels down the fallopian tube and attaches to the mother’s uterus. “There’s an incredibly high rate of fertilized eggs that don’t implant,” says Diane Horvath-Cosper, an OB-GYN in Washington, DC. Estimates run from 50 to 80 percent, and even some implanted embryos spontaneously abort later on. The woman might never know she was pregnant.
Clearly, the controversies and debates are not going away any time soon. It is going to be very messy for some time to come.