Breaking down IVF: What it is and why it’s important in the fight for reproductive rights

U.S. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) speaks during a news conference at the U.S. Capitol on protections for access to in vitro fertilization on February 27, 2024 in Washington, DC. During the news conference U.S. Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-IL) said she would reintroduce her legislation "Access to Family Building Act" in response to Alabama's State Supreme Court ruling that stated frozen embryos created during IVF are considered children. The news conference was also attended by Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), and Sen. Patty MUrray (D-WA). (Photo by Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images)

By Ashley Adams

May 2, 2024

In vitro fertilization, or IVF, has been at the forefront of a major reproductive rights battle, but what exactly is it?

For many Americans, in vitro fertilization (IVF) is the only potential path to parenthood.

According to the most recent data from the US Department of Health and Human Services, 2.3% of all infants born in the U.S. in 2021 were conceived via IVF or other forms of assisted reproductive technology (ART).

IVF took center stage in February when a majority of Supreme Court justices in Alabama said in an unprecedented ruling that frozen embryos are considered children under state law, specifically the state’s Wrongful Death of a Minor Act. Since the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade in 2022, Alabama has had a total abortion ban in place.

In any given IVF cycle, frozen embryos are routinely discarded if they test positive for genetic abnormalities, if they’re not needed, or if the patient can no longer afford to keep storing them. Now, according to Alabama law, that act of discarding is murder.

Many fear that what happened in Alabama could spill over into other states, such as Pennsylvania. In fact, Republican U.S. Rep. Guy Reschenthaler (Allegheny) is a cosponsor of the Life at Conception Act, which defines a human being to include “all stages of life, including the moment of fertilization.”

Democratic U.S. Rep. Susan Wild (Lehigh), on the other hand, introduced the Access to Family Building Act, which would codify IVF rights nationally.

IVF is at the center of a serious battle, but what exactly is it?

What is IVF?

In vitro fertilization, or IVF as it’s commonly called, is a medical procedure whereby an egg is fertilized by sperm in a test tube or elsewhere outside the body.

During IVF, mature eggs are collected from ovaries and fertilized by sperm in a lab, according to the Mayo Clinic. Then a procedure is done to place one or more of the fertilized eggs, called embryos, in a uterus, which is where babies develop.

Why is it done?

IVF is the most effective type of fertility treatment for infertility or genetic problems.

Who uses IVF?

IVF is offered as a main treatment for infertility and those with certain health conditions, such as:

  • Fallopian tube damage or blockage
  • Ovulation disorders
  • Endometriosis
  • Uterine fibroids
  • Previous surgery to prevent pregnancy
  • Issues with sperm
  • Unexplained infertility
  • Genetic disorders
  • A desire to preserve fertility due to cancer or other health conditions

People who aren’t able to conceive a child or for whom pregnancy poses a serious health risk might choose IVF using another person to carry the fetus to term.

Author

  • Ashley Adams

    In her 16 years in the communications industry, Ashley Adams has worn many hats, including news reporter, public relations writer, marketing specialist, copy editor and technical writer. Ashley grew up in Berks County and has since returned to her roots to raise her three children.

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