RICHMOND — Fertility experts say Virginia’s Personhood Bill threatens more than just abortion access — it could eliminate the practice of in-vitro fertilization.
The House Bill 1, referred to as the Personhood Bill, would grant constitutional rights to embryos at conception.
“We have concluded that Personhood measures, like HB 1, pose a serious threat to fertility treatments,” said Barbara Collura, executive director of RESOLVE: the National Infertility Association, a national nonprofit that promotes reproductive health based in McLean.
“Experts on reproductive medicine and law have reviewed (the bill’s) language, and they tell us infertility patients will not be protected,” she said.
Collura pointed to in-vitro fertilization, a procedure in which doctors fertilize an egg with sperm and implant it in a woman’s body. The process can result in excess or damaged fertilized eggs, which, she said, could fall under the proposal’s legal protection of embryos.
But the bill’s sponsor, Del. Bob Marshall, (R-13th), said the proposal specifically exempts legal practices, such as in-vitro fertilization.
“I suggest they get new legal counsel, because the conclusions that they are arriving at are a continuation of sideshows that this bill for some reason attracts,” he said. “None of these things have been abrogated by my bill; they are specifically accommodated. This is the third year we have had this bill. There is no effect on assisted reproduction. Period.”
Marshall included a section in the bill that says it would not “(affect) lawful assisted conception.”
Dr. Stephen Latham, director for the Yale Interdisciplinary Center for Bioethics, disagrees. He said that while the law protects medically assisted pregnancy, it does not safeguard the treatments required to achieve it.
“You could paraphrase [Section 7 ] to say that nothing in this section shall be interpreted as affecting a pregnancy brought about by medical technology, but it doesn’t say anything about whether the section will affect or apply to embryos being handled in the course of the assisting technology,” he said.
Latham said that under the bill’s present language, embryos that are frozen but not implanted, embryos that failed to implant and others lost through medical procedures would be considered the victims of murder, and the medical facilities that attempted the procedures culpable.
He said Marshall’s proposals could meet the criticism by using clearer language.
“This problem looks to me like it is just a drafting problem,” he said. “You could draft a version of this bill that exempted and protected clinics that are doing assisted reproductive techniques.”
Marshall accused the bill’s critics of searching for a solution without a problem, since the process of medically assisted conception is protected by state law and would remain unchanged under his bill.
“I am a little bit suspicious. Are they going to suggest this now is going to require earthquake insurance? I cannot find anything that they are not willing to throw on the wall to suggest that is affected by this bill,” Marshall said.
The Virginia bill is among similar measures nationwide that would define life as beginning at the moment of conception.
Mississippi voters rejected a Personhood amendment to its state constitution in a November referendum, with 55 percent casting ballots against the measure.
The voter rebuke has not stopped other state lawmakers from championing the cause. The Oklahoma Legislature is now weighing two Personhood bills.
Olivia Gans, president of the Virginia Society for Human Life, a Richmond-based anti-abortion nonprofit, said she supports the Personhood measure in Virginia and other states.
“We believe very strongly that the lives of unborn children should be valued under the law, that there should be an effort made to acknowledge and recognize their common humanity with the rest of us and, as such, the Personhood bill is a step in the right direction,” she said.
The bill passed the House, 66-32, on Feb. 15, and the measure has been sent to the Senate Committee on Education and Health, which meets Feb. 24.
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