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Fertility treatments could be in jeopardy in anti-abortion states, IVF patients fear

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

Some people struggling to conceive worry that the battle over abortion could eventually put treatments like in-vitro fertilization in jeopardy. That's as some anti-abortion activists in states like Michigan, Texas and Louisiana attempt to make the argument that life begins at conception. Michelle Jokisch Polo of member station WKAR in East Lansing reports.

MICHELLE JOKISCH POLO, BYLINE: During IVF, eggs are collected from ovaries and fertilized by sperm in a lab to create as many viable embryos as possible. Those embryos are then tested to check for viability and anomalies and are then transferred to a uterus, discarded or frozen in a lab to be used at a future date. Now that process may be in jeopardy for hundreds of thousands who are relying on IVF to try to conceive in states with abortion bans in place.

Judith Daar specializes in reproductive health law at the University of Northern Kentucky. She says when the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling overturning Roe v. Wade made a reference to unborn humans, the issue of IVF was indirectly raised.

JUDITH DAAR: If the legislature does view the unborn human life at its earliest moments as something worthy of protection over other interests, including the interest of patients informing their families, then laws could move forward that are restrictive on the very processes that are very routine to in-vitro fertilization.

JOKISCH POLO: After battling with infertility for several years, Melissa, who asked us to use only her first name for privacy reasons, says she finally saw a glimmer of hope through IVF. But when the ruling came down, she began to get concerned.

MELISSA: I'm sitting here desperate for babies - desperate. And this can seriously impact whether I can grow my family, whether I can afford to, whether I want to risk it.

JOKISCH POLO: In Michigan, a 1931 abortion ban is temporarily paused as the court's week to decide if abortion will be banned in most cases. That law could have those in IVF clinics facing criminal charges if they discard embryos. Or Melissa could be forced to try to get pregnant in a medically unsafe way.

MELISSA: So if the states pass something that says life starts at conception, is the clinic going to have to pivot what they do to stay in that language? Are they going to be able to make more than one embryo at a time? Are frozen embryos ever going to be allowed to be discarded?

JOKISCH POLO: Barb Collura heads the group, RESOLVE: The National Infertility Association. She says concerns like these are plaguing providers in states like Louisiana, Georgia and Texas with strict abortion bans.

BARB COLLURA: So there is definitely fear amongst those personnel that something that they may do in the laboratory, something that's inadvertent, or even if somebody says, look, you can't freeze embryos, and how will they be able to do their work?

JOKISCH POLO: Because Michigan's 1931 abortion ban is open to interpretation, Michigan State University ethicist Sean Valles fears it could widen the gap in access to care.

SEAN VALLES: And so both the ability to grow a family or to delay growing a family, those will both become more and more the prerogative of people who have money and connections and racial privilege.

JOKISCH POLO: While a temporary pause on the state's abortion ban is in place, Melissa and her husband are anxiously hoping Michigan courts make a decision in favor of abortion rights so that they can continue to grow their family. Across the country, others relying on IVF to start or grow their families are also anxiously watching what their states do. For NPR News, I'm Michelle Jokisch Polo.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

As WKAR's Bilingual Latinx Stories Reporter, Michelle reports in both English and Spanish on stories affecting Michigan's Latinx community. Michelle is also the voice of WKAR's weekend news programs.