Infertility Vs Personhood: A Teachable Moment?

EMBYROGrowing up Catholic I have struggled with the growing personhood movement and the misinformation that is spread about how many embryos are created as a result of IVF cycles.

I believe that human life is pretty easy to identify by the existence of a heartbeat on an ultrasound, because for us, until we saw an ultrasound with that little two-chamber soon to be four chamber heart beating, we didn’t feel like we could really safely assume we were in the clear for a healthy nine month pregnancy.

This seems to directly contradict with a quote that is featured on the Personhood USA website:

“After fertilization has taken place a new human being has come into being.  It is no longer a matter of taste or opinion…it is plain experimental evidence.  Each individual has a very neat beginning, at conception.”   Dr. Jerome Lejeune, “Father of Modern Genetics”.

I would argue that this quote is not accurate, based on what is lacking from this plain experimental evidence:  proof of implantation.



Conception is certainly the first step, but until that combination of cells burrows into the uterus, and begins forming the lifeline of nourishment that will eventually become an umbilical cord, it is simply a ball of cells with a tremendous about of potential.

One of the most frustrating things I hear in the media and even from fertility patients who speak on TV shows about infertility is “they implanted x number of embryos”.

Unless there is some new umbilical cord growing technique I am not aware of, the embryo implantation cannot be verified until the hormone level (the dreaded beta blood test for the infertility veterans) shows up in a blood test.

For fertility patients, that is the first promising sign though.

Then you are looking for the sac to show up.

Then the two chamber heart.

Then the 4 chamber heart and the gummy bear like appendages.

It is at this point, I can certainly appreciate that the Personhood movements, and any pro life movement would want to protect this life until birth.

Sadly, the person hood movement is stubbornly fixated on keeping their ‘life begins at conception’ definition unchanged.

And that has serious ramifications for the millions of fertility patients who seek out the help of fertility doctors to have a baby.

In a CNN article in 2012 Keith Mason, president of Personhood USA, shows a startling lack of knowledge about IVF when he is quoted as saying “In creating 30 to 60 embryos, and then choosing three or four embryos, that’s selective reduction.  I think these practices would be affected”.

I don’t know anyone that created that many embryos in one cycle, and the ones that do not make it to transfer (not implantation) are often discarded because they stop growing at a certain point or don’t survive in the embryo growing petri dish.  The exaggeration of how many embryos are created and discarded only weakens the pro-life cause by spreading deliberate misinformation about a population of aspiring parents who arguably place a great deal of value on unborn life.

The truth is, personhood legislation tries to define life at fertilization, and that doesn’t match up with what modern day fertility science knows about when life actually begins based on the “plain experimental evidence” Dr. Lejeune cites in his quote.

Maybe this revelation could be the beginning of a “teachable” moment.

I would love to see the person hood folks try a new approach to protecting unborn life: how about building the foundation for a socioeconomic system that is more aligned with our natural biology?

God designed us to have children when we are young, but we have designed an economic framework that makes it very difficult to achieve financial stability before taking on the responsibility for another human life.

How many women would choose an abortion if they genuinely believed society would support them financially without having to sacrifice career and education ambitions if they had that child at a more biologically friendly age?

Hopefully, the debate will evolve to what we can do to begin to shape a society that places a higher value on parenthood.. and even more importantly…on mother hood.









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