Conveying Personhood to Embryos

I am good with the definition above. With the overturning of Roe v Wade, couples who have utilized assisted reproduction to produce embryos now in cryogenic storage are concerned. Therefore, people hoping to conceive with in vitro fertilization are now considering moving their stored embryos to states where abortion is protected.

A handful of states want to use an abortion regulation to define life as beginning at fertilization. This is language that is commonly present in several state abortion bans. Some have gone into effect and others will soon, including in Utah, Texas and Louisiana. Some states want to go further – giving embryos constitutional rights through what are called “personhood” bills, even though most will never become babies. Personhood laws have been proposed but have not yet passed in Georgia, Iowa, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina and Nebraska.

IVF is the other side of the reproductive choice coin. Abortion is a woman’s right to choose ‘no.’ IVF is their right to choose ‘yes.’ Laws that define life as beginning at conception could lead to limitations around how many eggs are fertilized in each IVF cycle and whether the resulting embryos, most of which are often not genetically viable, can be disposed of. It’s standard to retrieve a dozen eggs or more, then fertilize and test them to ensure the one that is implanted in the uterus has the best chance of leading to a healthy pregnancy. If those embryos are considered people from the moment they’re fertilized, disposal could be a crime and doctors could be prosecuted. That would make IVF less successful, more costly and more inaccessible.

Couples are worried that their embryos could be held hostage by abortion legislation and that they would then be unable to move them out of state. They are worried their state will force them to have another child even though they feel their family is complete. They are worried about getting pregnant at all and miscarrying – will they be able to receive the care they need?

The bottom line is this – losing choice means losing the autonomy to dictate one’s own future. 

Much of the content for today’s blog came by way of this article – “IVF may be in jeopardy in states where embryos are granted personhood” by Chabeli Carranza and Jennifer Gerson in The Guardian.

Not Cattle Or Property

The very first fight for open records was in Tennessee in the 1990s, just after my mom was denied access to her own.

Sealed records are similar to a state refusing to recognize the rights of a citizen. Not knowing one’s original name is like “being in a witness protection program the adoptee never asked to be a part of.”

On June 24, 1996, six days before a law to open records was to go into effect in Tennessee, a suit was filed in federal district court in Nashville to block it led by the
televangelist, Pat Robertson. It claimed that openness in adoption would result in a decrease in adoptions and an increase in abortions.

It was feared that women threatened by the prospect that their relinquished children might someday contact them would abort their children rather than place them for adoption.

The suit was filed by Small World Ministries, affiliated with the National Council for Adoption (NCFA), a Washington DC based lobbying organisation funded by adoption agencies who have an interest on behalf of adoptive parents in keeping adoptees and their original families apart. The lawyers argued that opening the records of all adoptees would violate the federal and state constitutional rights of birth parents to privacy.

A judge finally ended the dispute writing, “We note our skepticism that information concerning a birth might be protected from disclosure by the Constitution. A birth is
simultaneously an intimate occasion and a public event – the government has long kept records of when, where, and by whom babies are born.” The judge also praised the Tennessee law – “The statute appears to be a serious attempt to weigh and balance two frequently conflicting interests: the interest of a child adopted at an early age to know who that child’s birth parents were, an interest entitled to a good deal of respect and sympathy, and the interest of birth parents in the protection of the integrity of a sound adoption system.

That fight would last a grueling 3 years. Finally in September 1999, the decision was unanimous in favor of open records. The court found that the law did not violate birth or adoptive parents rights.

States with unrestricted access to the original birth certificate for adoptees age 18 or older are Alabama, Alaska, Colorado, Hawaii, Kansas, Maine, New Hampshire, Oregon, and Rhode Island.  There are many states including Tennessee that have Access with Restrictions but that do allow adoptees and their lineal descendants to receive the adoption file.  It is thanks to that law, I received my mother’s adoption file.

In my own effort to receive information about my adoptee parents, I’ve bumped up against sealed records in Virginia, Arizona and California.  I would note that my parents, their birth parents and their adoptive parents are all deceased. Shouldn’t I as a descendant finally know where we come from ?

Fortunately, I found other ways – DNA and the matching sites, Ancestry or 23 and Me.

In total, records remain sealed in 21 states – that is almost half of these United States !!  Currently in New York, that fight to open adoption records is making some progress in the legislature. One can hope for the day when all states open their records to adoptees and their lineal descendants.