Anti-abortion activists and legislators have spent a lot of time, money, and political energy trying to convince Americans that fertilized eggs are human beings. Their belief that “life begins at conception” is supposedly why these lawmakers are passing legislation that bans abortion at six weeks (before most women even know they’re pregnant), and why some are against certain forms of birth control — because they believe that IUDs and the pill prevent the implantation of a fertilized egg.
But when Alabama State Senator Clyde Chambliss, a Republican, was asked recently if his state’s sweeping abortion ban would punish those at IVF clinics who discard embryos or fertilized eggs, he replied, “The egg in the lab doesn’t apply. It’s not in a woman. She’s not pregnant.”
And with that one sentence, the anti-abortion hypocrisy was exposed: The fight to end abortion has never been about when life begins, or protecting “babies”; it’s about controlling women, and the anti-abortion movement’s legislative apathy toward IVF proves it.
When a woman who has undergone IVF has embryos she’s not planning to use, the state doesn’t require her to undergo counseling before the clinic can discard them. Nor does she have to wait 48 hours to think about her choice, walk through a line of protesters screaming at her, or carry a stigma that might make her afraid to talk about her experience.
There is no difference between a fertilized egg in a lab and a fertilized egg in a person, yet a woman who gives a clinic permission to discard her embryo doesn’t have to deal with any of the legislative or cultural toxicity that surround women seeking abortions.
Rutgers professor Margo Kaplan, who donated an embryo for medical research, wrote in The Washington Post, for example, that “all my husband and I had to do was sign a form.”
“IVF patients make less-attractive targets,” she wrote, “because we don’t challenge the expectation that women want to be mothers.”
These lawmakers believe all women should be mothers, and that the only sex we should be having is straight, married, and procreative.
And that’s the rub — conservative legislators roll back abortion rights while ignoring the millions of embryos at U.S. clinics that are frozen or destroyed because their agenda is not about “life,” but forced motherhood and a return to traditional gender roles. When Ohio passed its abortion ban, for example, Republican state representative Christina Hagan said, “Motherhood isn’t easy, but it is necessary.”
These lawmakers believe all women should be mothers, and that the only sex we should be having is straight, married, and procreative. (It’s also why the GOP generally supports exceptions in abortion bans for rape and incest victims — these are women who didn’t willingly have sex, and so they are deemed “deserving” of care.)
It’s not just the Republican stance on IVF that makes this retro agenda clear — but their broad and longstanding refusal to take any action that might reduce abortions. If this was a priority, they’d be making birth control more accessible and affordable, and they’d insist on comprehensive sex education for American students. Instead, they fight to make birth control harder to get, and prevent young people from accessing information that could keep them healthy and limit unwanted pregnancies.
When you recognize the real goal — keeping women in their place — all of these actions start to make sense. They want women to be uneducated about our bodies, have little recourse to prevent pregnancy, and eventually no choice about whether to remain pregnant.
The hypocrisy is astounding, but it is also powerful; it allows us to make clear that Republicans don’t care about when life begins or saving fertilized eggs. As Chambliss said, exposing more than he realized, conservatives only want to legislate embryos that are “in a woman.” It’s only our bodies and freedom that they’re concerned with.
I suppose this is about life after all — women’s lives, and the complete lack of regard that some lawmakers have for them.