NEW YORK – In a recent letter to Senators, four U.S. Bishops’ Conference chairmen argue that there isn’t a scenario where in vitro fertilization (IVF) is a morally acceptable means of pregnancy, and therefore legislation to establish a federal right to the treatment shouldn’t be passed.

The Feb. 28 letter was the bishops’ response to the proposed Access to Family Building Act (S. 3612), which would establish a federal right to the treatment. The legislation, however, still has ways to go. Senate Republicans on Feb. 28 blocked a vote on the bill.

How IVF works is that mature eggs are collected from ovaries and fertilized by sperm in a lab. Then a procedure is done to place one or more of the fertilized eggs in the woman’s uterus, which is where the babies develop. Generally, a full IVF cycle takes about two to three weeks.

In the letter, the USCCB chairmen acknowledged the challenges families face with infertility, but emphasized that families shouldn’t turn to IVF as a solution.

“As pastors, we grieve with many couples bearing this cross and seek to be a part of a community that accompanies them in a way that helps them to flourish in love,” the bishops wrote. “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,” they added. “For this and other deeply troubling problems with the bill, we strongly oppose the Access to Family Building Act.”

The letter was signed by Archbishop Borys Gudziak of the Ukrainian Archeparchy of Philadelphia, chair of USCCB Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development; Bishop Michael Burbidge of Arlington, chair of the USCCB Committee on Pro-Life Activities; Bishop Robert Baron of Winona-Rochester, chair of the USCCB Committee on Laity, Marriage, Family Life and Youth; and Bishop Kevin Rhoades of Fort Wayne-South Bend, chair of the USCCB Committee for Religious Liberty.

The Access to Family Building Act was introduced by Illinois Democratic Senator Tammy Duckworth in mid-January. Duckworth used IVF treatments to have her two children after struggles with infertility. In a statement, she said she was disappointed that Republicans blocked the vote.

“For years, even before the Supreme Court’s disastrous Dobbs decision that overturned Roe v. Wade, I’ve sounded the alarm that Republicans’ decades-long campaign to rob women of their right to make decisions about their healthcare and bodies would eventually put IVF and other [assisted reproductive technology] at risk,” Duckworth said in a Feb. 28 statement.

“I’m heartbroken that I was right and disappointed that they blocked our efforts tonight, but I will never stop working to protect every American from being criminalized just for trying to start or grow their family through IVF,” she continued.

Beyond their moral opposition to the bill, the bishops chief concern is that if it passed it would be exempt from the Religious Freedom Restoration Act through a built in self-carve-out. They call the possibility “devastating,” citing how it would put faith-based organizations that can’t cover IVF in employee health plans in difficult situations. They also note that faith-based health care facilities and providers could likewise be forced to facilitate procedures that violate their beliefs or have to exit the field.

“Such consequences would hurt not just organizations but, more importantly, those whom they serve,” the bishops wrote.

Another concern the chairmen expressed is that the terms of the bill could be interpreted to 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, and gestational surrogacy.

They also raise concerns that there aren’t any limits in the bill on age limits or who is liable, making so parents could be sued by the government or a provider if they try to prevent their underage child from using assisted reproductive technologies.

Further, they argue that a new nationwide right to commercial surrogacy would be 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 have ever known,” the bishops wrote.

The chairmen also note that even if the concerns they have with the legislation are addressed, it still won’t garner their support because the “legal enshrinement of IVF, however well-intended, is neither pro-life nor pro-child.”

They instead call for approaches like investing in life-affirming research on infertility, or strengthening support for couples who desire to adopt.

The national conversation around IVF has intensified this week after the Alabama Supreme Court ruled that frozen embryos can be considered children under state law. In response, several clinics in the state paused IVF services while they assessed what the ruling meant.

In their letter, the chairmen took aim at the national conversation around IVF, and the clinics that paused operations in response to the court ruling.

“Contrary to repeated misconceptions, the Supreme Court of Alabama’s decision of February 16 did not ‘ban’ IVF,” the chairmen wrote. “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 and 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,” they continued.

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