Infertility Treatments Come Under Fire at the Arizona Legislature

Last month, committees in both the Arizona House and Senate heard testimony on bills that would virtually wipe out egg donation as a fertility treatment in Arizona.

There was not testimony from a single person who'd been harmed by the procedure, which involves a fertile young woman "donating" her eggs to an infertile woman.

There was no evidence from watchdog groups that the procedure is being used incorrectly.

There wasn't even a single whistleblower.

There was, however, the Center for Arizona Policy, or CAP. The conservative Christian nonprofit is arguably the most influential lobbying group at the Legislature these days. And CAP didn't just support the bills in question. It also wrote them.

With Janet Napolitano now in Washington, trying to somehow secure our homeland, Republicans control the state House, the Senate, and the governorship. Thanks to that, CAP is on a roll.

And so while Arizonans fret about the economy or grouse about shuttered highway rest stops, the Legislature fiddles to CAP's tune. Want to divorce your spouse? CAP thinks you should have to wait six months to finalize it, and the Legislature does, too. Want to adopt a needy child? You'd better be married, CAP says, and the Legislature agrees.

But CAP's foray into the world of fertility treatment is a bold one. Last week, I spoke with four local physicians who specialize in fertility issues. They all agreed that CAP's bills could have horrendous consequences for the families they treat — and future research in their field. And even if taking down the fertility industry is a goal of CAP's leadership, I have a hard time believing that it's one universally shared by the group's supporters. (Conservative Christians, surely, have just as much trouble conceiving as any other demographic.)

The bills that were originally introduced this year — and that sailed through initial committee hearings — would have foisted intense new regulation, and possible criminal charges, on fertility specialists.

They would have barred clinics from advertising for egg donors. They would have also stopped clinics from reimbursing young women for anything other than "direct" costs associated with their donation — a measure that passed in the United Kingdom and almost immediately created a three-year wait for someone in need of eggs. They would have also required potential donors to be told that the risks of egg donation are "highly unstudied and unknown compared to other medical procedures" — a statement that is simply not true, according to the nonprofit group that represents fertility specialists, the American Society for Reproductive Medicine.

And there's more. A companion bill, introduced simultaneously in both the House and Senate, would make it a felony for a physician to "intentionally or knowingly engage in an activity for non-therapeutic research" that injures or destroys a human embryo.

Now, "non-therapeutic research" doesn't mean anything to the doctors I consulted, but according to the actual language in the bill, it would cover any research "not intended to preserve the life or health" of an embryo. One fertility specialist I spoke to, Dr. Fred Larsen of Chandler, believes that means physicians could be prosecuted if they examined an embryo to check for conditions such as Down syndrome or cystic fibrosis.

Thanks in part to pressure from physicians and a support group for their patients, CAP has amended both bills. But the physicians I spoke with say that, even as amended, the bills are still extremely troubling.

The first bill would still require doctors to make certain disclosures to egg donors that physicians say are unnecessary. And the second bill still makes it a crime to "injure or destroy" an embryo during research. The Senate approved both bills last week; they're now waiting for a final vote in the House.

Even with the amendments, the American Society for Reproductive Medicine is flatly opposed to both bills. So is RESOLVE, the national infertility advocacy group.

And the physicians I spoke to are angry. They believe their industry is being targeted not because of any real problems, but because CAP wants to establish embryos as "persons" — part of a back-door attempt to get around Roe v. Wade.

"These bills are a solution in search of a problem," says Sean Tipton, spokesman for the American Society of Reproductive Medicine. "There's no evidence that [the procedures being affected] are dangerous. There's no data to support their argument that patients aren't being properly protected.

"This is really part of a national trend of people who want to drag abortion politics into fertility issues."

And in Arizona, at least, they're doing it without even talking to the very people who will be most affected: the families who struggle with fertility and the doctors who've devoted to their careers to helping them.

I was initially skeptical about this story, mainly because of my position on abortion. My friends are generally horrified when I admit this, but I do not believe abortion should be legal, other than in cases of rape, incest, or truly life-threatening health risks.

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Sarah Fenske
Contact: Sarah Fenske