The case against the IVF bill

Access to Family Building ActCongress introduced a new bill, the “Access to Family Building Act,” with the goal “to prohibit the limitation of access to assisted reproductive technology, and all medical care surrounding such technology.” It is a response to the Alabama Supreme Court’s ruling that frozen embryos are children.

Pulse Life Advocates opposes the bill, as does the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. The USCCB release a letter today, excerpted below, with their reasons for opposing this piece of legislation. We presented it in a Q & A format, with questions provided by us:

What is the issue?

USCCB: The often-painful experience of infertility is a challenge facing an increasing number of families. As pastors, we grieve with many couples bearing this cross and seek to be part of a community that accompanies them in a way that helps them to flourish in love. In this, we can understand the profound desire that motivates some of these couples to go to great lengths to have children, and we support morally licit means of doing so.

The solution, however, can never be a medical process that involves the creation of countless preborn children and results in most of them being frozen or discarded and destroyed. For this and other deeply troubling problems with the bill, we strongly oppose the Access to Family Building Act (S. 3612). 

Could this bill jeopardize our religious liberty?

USCCB:Even if you do not agree with us on the evident humanity of every conceived person, there are problems with S. 3612 that raise serious concerns on other grounds. If enacted, the Access to Family Building Act would be the first law ever to exempt itself from the longstanding Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), led by then-Representative Schumer and passed in the Senate by a vote of 97 to 3 in 1993.

An unprecedented self-carve-out from RFRA would be devastating. The bill’s command that private entities and individuals must not “unreasonably limit[], or interfer[e]” with a new right to provide or obtain assisted reproductive technologies (ART) is, while ambiguous, certainly sweeping. For example, faith-based non-profit charities, schools, and church organizations that serve your communities and, out of principle, cannot cover in vitro fertilization (IVF) in their employee health plans could face impossible, potentially existential choices. Faith-based health care facilities and providers of faith could likewise be forced to facilitate procedures that violate their beliefs or to exit the field. Such consequences would hurt not just organizations but, more importantly, those whom they serve. 

Are there potential unintended consequences to the Access to Family Building Act?

USCCB: The terms of S. 3612 could also be readily interpreted to fabricate and impose new rights to human cloning, gene editing, making human-animal chimeras, reproducing children of a parent who is long deceased, engaging in the buying and selling of human embryos, commercial gestational surrogacy, and more. Human cloning and commercial surrogacy are otherwise prohibited in some States.

Why should this issue be federalized?

USCCB: We would observe an incongruity, then, in those who say (erroneously) that protecting preborn children from abortion is now only an issue for the States, after the U.S. Supreme Court’s Dobbs decision, to then say that the federal government must intervene in States to provide IVF nationwide. Further, with no limits on age or who is liable, even parents could be sued by the government or a provider if they try to prevent their underage child from using ART (assisted reproductive technologies). 

This would be all the more probable if the ambiguous syntax of the parenthetical in Sec. 4(a)(1) of the bill indicates that “financial cost” is an “unreasonable” barrier, requiring undefined others to pay for one’s use of ART. And like any of these results, a new nationwide right to commercial surrogacy would also be deeply problematic. As Pope Francis recently observed, the practice exploits vulnerable women and commodifies both them and their children.

It also violates children’s right to a mother and father, and tears them away from the mother in whom they grew and whose voice is the first and only one they had ever known.

Is there really a need for this bill?

USCCB: All of the foregoing problems would seem to be disproportionate to the perceived benefits that the bill would achieve even for its supporters. This is because federally ensuring the availability of IVF is wholly unnecessary for those who wish to do so. Contrary to repeated misconceptions, the Supreme Court of Alabama’s decision of February 16 did not “ban” IVF. It merely took existing law, in effect long before Dobbs, and applied it to embryos in IVF facilities so that parents could hold the latter accountable for negligent wrongful death. IVF providers and clinics that have responded by pausing operations have done so voluntarily, possibly in a bid to resist accountability to parents, financial liability, and, effectively, regulation. 

Is this bill pro-life?

USCCB: While we highlight a range of concerns that we believe are shared by a majority of Americans regardless of their political persuasions, we must make clear that, even if such problems are addressed, we will continue to oppose the Access to Family Building Act as a threat to the most vulnerable of human beings. Contrary to what some have claimed, a position that supports legal enshrinement of IVF, however well-intended, is neither pro-life nor pro-child. Approaches such as investing in life-affirming research on infertility, or strengthening support for couples who desire to adopt, would be better to explore. 

Among those to whom we and our parishes minister, we know well the deep yearning and even suffering of families struggling with infertility. We seek to ameliorate that personal suffering. Yet we cannot condone a practice and an industry that is built on millions of children who are created to be destroyed or abandoned. For all of the above reasons, we implore you in the strongest possible terms to oppose S. 3612 and any similar legislation that comes before you. 

This letter was signed by:

Most Reverend Robert E. Barron, Bishop of Winona-Rochester,Chairman, Committee on Laity, Marriage, Family Life and Youth;

Most Reverend Borys Gudziak, Archbishop of Ukrainian Catholic Archeparchy of Philadelphia, Chairman, Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development;

Most Reverend Michael F. Burbridge, Bishop of Arlington, Chairman, Committee on Pro-Life Activities;

Most Reverend Kevin C. Rhoades, Bishop of Fort Wayne-South Bend, Chairman, Committee for Religious Liberty.