The politics of assisted reproduction, explained

This Mother’s Day, many women (and men) around the globe are struggling to have children, turning to a variety of approaches to overcome infertility. Meanwhile, lawmakers, medical professionals and activists have been in a heated public debate about the complex morals and politics of abortion and assisted reproductive technologies, also called ART.

Here are five things to know about the politics of such technologies, including how they are viewed and regulated.

1. Use of ART, and IVF in particular, is booming in the U.S. and abroad.

Since the 1978 birth of Louise Brown, the first “test tube baby,” nearly 7 million babies have been born using ART, defined as fertility treatments in which eggs or embryos are handled outside the body.

The most commonly used technology is in vitro fertilization (IVF), where a woman’s eggs are removed, fertilized in a laboratory and then reimplanted into her body. IVF can also involve a constellation of other technologies, including the use of donor eggs and/or sperm.

In recent years, U.S. use of these technologies has skyrocketed. In 2015, 464 fertility clinics reported the birth of more than 72,000 infants via ART procedures, a 30 percent increase since 2006.

ART is in use globally, with people traveling across the world, including to and from the U.S., for treatment. Women in Israel undergo the most IVF cycles per capita; globally, Israel has the highest per capita rate of fertility clinics.

2. Debates over personhood may threaten assisted parenthood.

When assisted reproduction emerged in the late 1970s, some religious and political forces attacked its use. Some politicians feared IVF would be linked to the debate over abortion.

That hasn’t happened. The Catholic Church continues to formally oppose ART because of concerns about the use of technology in the creation of human life, as well as possible destruction of embryos in IVF.

But most people in the U.S. see abortion and ART as disconnected. As one of us, Heather Silber Mohamed, explores in a new article, the 2013 Pew Survey on Aging and Longevity revealed that while 53.9 percent of respondents in a nationally representative survey described abortion as morally wrong, only 11.7 percent viewed IVF this way. And among those who consider abortion morally wrong, only 19.5 percent described IVF in similar terms; one-third described IVF as morally acceptable and nearly half did not consider IVF a moral issue.

In the U.S.,…

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