In our previous statement on Mississippi’s “heartbeat bill”, HB-1196, we expressed concern about some personhood-like language while staying neutral on the overall bill.

The original heartbeat bill died in the Senate, but its sponsor, Rep. Andy Gipson, appended its exact language to another bill, SB-2771. Late yesterday afternoon, Rep. Gipson amendmed SB-2771 yet again, to the version found here, which was subsequently passed by the House.

We have put the new language through legal review, and we have concluded that this is personhood.

SB-2771 in its current form would carry the potential to severely impact IVF, contraception, and even common fertility drugs like Clomid. It could threaten women’s access to medical treatment to preserve their lives and physical health. Essential components of the IVF process, such as embryo cryopreservation, could now potentially meet the definition of “child homicide” and result in criminal charges against doctors.

I want to emphasize that this is NOT A REVERSAL of our previous position, because this bill is no longer simply a heartbeat ban. The revised language carries all the possibility for unintended consequences that Initiative 26 presented, and that caused Mississippi voters to reject personhood by a 58-42 margin.

We continue to be neutral on the question of the heartbeat ban, but due to the potential non-abortion consequences of this latest revision, we oppose SB-2771 and regard it as a personhood bill.

Rep. Gipson has filed two separate personhood amendments this session, plus an anti-IVF bill which would have stopped Mississippi couples from building their families. He has made it very clear that his intentions are to impose personhood and end IVF in Mississippi any way he can. With the latest amendment to SB-2771, he has shown that he will break the legislative rules in order to cram personhood down Mississippians’ throats.

We call upon the Senate, Lt. Governor Tate Reeves, and Senate Judiciary B Chairman Hob Bryan to stop Rep. Gipson’s abuse of the legislative process, and to reject his addition of personhood to SB-2771.

We encourage you all to contact your senators, the Lt. Governor, and Chairman Bryan TODAY in order to oppose this latest attempt to defy our rejection of Initiative 26 and threaten Mississippi families’ access to medical care and family-building options.

We will be explaining our position in more depth in subsequent posts over the next several days, and exploring the legal issues with you. However, we want you all to know that we consider this to be a personhood bill, and we hope that you will take immediate action to contact the Senate.

IVF: The next target in the personhood war

April 5th, 2012 | Posted by Atlee Breland in IVF | Media | Mississippi | Oklahoma - (Comments Off)

In a Chicago suburb, a doctor is planning to build a new medical office.

Why is this national news? Because this doctor is a reproductive endocrinologist. He treats infertility patients — patients like me and my husband. He runs tests to diagnose us, treats our endometriosis or PCOS or hypothalamic amenorrhea, monitors our hormone levels, and prescribes us infertility medications like Clomid. If none of those lesser interventions work, he offers us IVF.

And for that last, pro-life groups decided this doctor should not be able to open his new building. They decided to fight its zoning permission on the grounds that IVF is immoral.

“This evening the City Council is not addressing questions simply of zoning, planning and property use,” Mike Brummond said. “It’s consenting to a particular world view for the people of Naperville. Will you choose a world view in which a child is not procreated but manufactured?”

Even a City Council member opposed the clinic, saying “We’ve got to ask ourselves is this a preferred use? Is this right for our community? I’m convinced it’s not.”

Ultimately, the City Council decided to approve the new building, but that’s not the end of the story: local pro-life groups are planning to hold protests.

Yes, you read that right. Protests, at an infertility doctor’s office, targeting infertile couples and their doctors.

We’re not talking about people who “made bad choices”, whatever that means. Infertility patients are people with diseases, actual physical conditions like endometriosis or azoospermia or premature ovarian failure. Cancer survivors, and spinal cord injury patients. People like me, and like the 1 in 8 couples who will experience infertility, who just want to become mothers and fathers.

Can you imagine a city council member opposing a pediatrician’s office, or a cancer clinic, or a dentist? Can you imagine you might have to walk through a gauntlet of screaming protesters to get into to your doctor’s office to get treated for heart disease or cancer?

Time was, I couldn’t fathom that my infertility doctor might be treated that way, either. As my dear friend Renee Whitley says at the RESOLVE blog, “Even though I don’t live in Illinois, this feels so personal to me”. She’s so right that it’s difficult to watch our disease under attack.

But that’s where personhood has brought us.

I’ve said on many occasions that infertile couples should not be caught in the crossfire of the pro-choice/pro-life divide, but it’s becoming clear that IVF isn’t just an unintended consequence — it’s the new battlefield.

There’s no more middle ground here, no more room for personhood advocates to claim that “we don’t want to hurt IVF”. When you’re attempting to drive my doctor’s office out of your town, and protest it like it’s an abortion clinic, you don’t get to claim you support my right to build a family through infertility treatment.

If you truly believe that zygotes and blastocysts are the full legal and moral equivalent of people like you and me, then yes, you need to agree with Personhood USA that IVF is not “respectful of basic human dignity”, and that it should be restricted out of existence. You need to say that IUI is wrong, because of the risk of high-order multiples. You need to say that Clomid is wrong, because it can prevent fertilized eggs from implanting. And you need to stand with the pro-life protesters outside my doctor’s office.

Me, I know exactly where I stand:

What do infertility patients look like?

The general public and the media thinks we look like upper-middle-class professional women in our late 30s. And yes, some of us do fit that description — but infertility’s effects go far beyond the stereotype.

They look like this:
The faces of infertility

40% of couples with infertility have male-factor issues.

Cancer treatment saves lives, but it can also damage survivors’ fertility. IVF and assisted reproduction can provide them with family-building options.

Infertility treatment means that injured veterans don’t have to sacrifice their dreams of parenthood too.

Patients with spinal cord injuries can become parents with the help of infertility physicians.

Infertility patients might even look like this:
Oklahoma House Public Health Committee

These are the members of the Oklahoma House’s Public Health Committee. Most are men. One is a cancer survivor. One has a spinal cord injury. And given that infertility affects more than 1 in 8 Americans, the odds say that at least one of these legislators has personally experienced infertility.

On Tuesday, these legislators will vote on the personhood bill, Oklahoma SB-1433. We need every voice to stop it, and keep medical treatment and family-building options available for all Oklahomans.

On Monday, please call Rep. John Enns and ask him to keep IVF available for other spinal cord injury survivors like himself. Call the other committee members and ask them to listen to the Oklahoma medical community.

Placing a simple phone call is the most important thing you can do to stop SB-1433. Find out how to call your legislators, and please, help stop SB-1433.

Late Friday afternoon, Rep. Lisa Billy, the House sponsor of SB-1433, proposed a committee amendment to her bill.

Rep. Billy’s amendment adds a new paragraph to the bill, which reads as follows:

Nothing in this section shall be construed to prohibit contraception or in vitro fertilization. The authority to regulate in vitro fertilization procedures is reserved to the Legislature.

This language is absolutely inadequate to protect infertility treatment. It’s not necessary to outright prohibit IVF in order to regulate it out of existence — and that is exactly what SB-1433 will enable the Legislature to do.

If SB-1433 passes, Oklahoma legislators will have the explicit authority to tell your doctor how to practice medicine. They will be able to implement restrictions like those proposed in Mississippi’s HB-1114, banning cryopreservation and limiting physicians to attempt to fertilize an unreasonably small number of eggs.

Would you support a law which said that the Oklahoma Legislature reserves the authority to regulate which cancer treatments are available to patients? Do you think your legislators ought to have the power to regulate heart surgery, or childbirth delivery options? If not, why on earth should they be able to determine your medical family-building options?

The proposed amendment is meaningless, because it does not define contraception or IVF. It doesn’t specify whether contraception includes birth control methods which can also potentially prevent implantation, such as Plan B and the IUD, methods which personhood advocates commonly term “abortifacients” rather than contraceptives. It does not answer critical questions about which vital parts of the IVF process, such as embryo cryopreservation, might or might not be protected. It leaves these details to the discretion of local judges, prosecutors, and legislators, leaving patients’ healthcare rights as threatened as ever.

This amendment, from the bill’s own co-author, makes it perfectly clear that SB-1433 is not and has never been a matter of mere “foundational principles”. It’s about violating infertility patients’ rights to medical privacy. It’s about government intrusion into all aspects of reproductive healthcare. It’s about legislators telling doctors how to practice medicine.

SB-1433 is absolutely unacceptable, with or without Rep. Billy’s amendment. Please call your Oklahoma representatives immediately and ask them to oppose SB-1433 on Tuesday.

UPDATE: SB-1433 has passed the Public Health Committee, but we can still speak out to stop it. Please call Speaker Steele at 405-557-7345 and ask that SB-1433 not be brought to a floor vote!

The Oklahoma Legislature has just scheduled SB-1433 for a hearing in the House Public Health Committee, to be held on Tuesday, March 27th. We need every voice to speak out against this bill in order to stop it in committee.

Phone calls are an incredibly effective way to contact the committee members, and they’re really easy. It takes less than five minutes. You don’t have to be an expert debater — you’re just calling their staffer and registering your opposition. Here’s how a conversation might go:

Hi, my name is ____. I’m a _____ (Oklahoma resident/constituent of Rep. X/infertility patient) from _____ (your town), and I want to ask Rep. X to oppose SB-1433. Our doctors say this bill will threaten Oklahoma families’ access to infertility treatment and birth control, and I don’t want the government to be making my health care decisions for me.

Staffer: Great, can I have your name again and your address? We’ll pass your comments along to Rep. X. Thank you for contacting us.

That’s it! You can use that exact script, or change your comments to suit, but all you need to do is stating that you’re opposed to the bill, and providing a very brief explanation. Be polite and respectful!

The staffer will tally your response and pass that along to the representative. Even ten or fifteen phone calls can make a huge impact to a legislator. It’s the most effective thing we can do right now to stop personhood.

Please call each of the following legislators on Monday, and ask them to oppose SB-1433:

Kris Steele (House Speaker) 405-557-7345
John Enns (Chair) 405-557-7321
David Derby (Vice-Chair) 405-557-7477
Ed Cannaday 405-557-7375
Doug Cox 405-557-7415
Randy Grau 405-557-7360
Wes Hilliard 405-557-7412
Corey Holland 405-557-7405
Jadine Nollan 405-557-7390
Ron Peters 405-557-7359
Mike Ritze 405-557-7338
Sean Roberts 405-557-7322
Colby Schwartz 405-557-7352
Jeannie McDaniel 405-557-7334

One argument that’s been advanced in support of Oklahoma personhood bill SB-1433 is that it’s just the same as a Missouri statute which has been found constitutional, and that the Missouri statute doesn’t stop IVF from being practiced in Missouri.

This claim is incorrect. First, the Oklahoma bill is NOT just the same as the Missouri statute, because it does not contain language recognizing the supremacy of federal constitutional law. Second, saying the Missouri statute has been found constitutional is a fundamental misunderstanding of the Supreme Court ruling at issue in Webster v Reproductive Health Services. We’ll discuss those legal issues in a separate post.

Does that Missouri statute stop IVF, though? The answer isn’t as straightforward as Sen. Crain and Rep. Billy would have you believe.

While it’s certainly true that IVF is available to patients in Missouri, it is not at all clear that it’s permitted by Missouri §1-205.

Pro-life groups’ own legal analysis indicates that this statute could potentially be used to target infertility treatment. Consider this analysis of Missouri abortion law from the General Counsel of Missouri Right to Life:

Because §1.205 applies from the moment of “conception,” it is broad enough to protect all babies who are created from in-vitro fertilization. The logic of the court decisions mentioned above would embrace a conclusion that discarding unwanted or extra IVF embryos would constitute a crime in Missouri and would leave the responsible persons liable for civil suits for wrongful death. This writer is unaware of any court cases that have tested these conclusions in Missouri.

Does this statute apply only to deliberate embryo disposition? Certainly not. In State v Knapp, the Missouri Supreme Court found that the definition of personhood in §1-205 applied to the state’s involuntary manslaughter law, §565-204. That statute specifically provides for criminal charges for unintentional but foreseeable deaths; under the legal standard of recklessness, embryo cryopreservation would certainly meet that standard.

What Missouri Right to Life is saying here is that Missouri law doesn’t protect IVF. Physicians could, at any time, be slapped with criminal charges or civil suits for simply practicing IVF according to the medical standards of care. An overzealous Missouri prosecutor could file such charges tomorrow.

If SB-1433 becomes law, Oklahoma prosecutors can do the same thing. They will have the legal authority to make criminals of infertility physicians, simply for treating their patients and helping them build families. In fact, they’ll have a legal duty to do so — after all, officers of the court take an oath to uphold and defend the state’s laws.

No, Missouri hasn’t yet exercised that power. But are you really prepared to trust that the Oklahoma government won’t use it? Do you want to hand them that kind of control over your medical treatment?

Oklahoma doctors aren’t. The physicians who actually treat Oklahoma infertility patients are united in opposing SB-1433, because they fear the threat of criminal and civil prosecution. National medical associations like ACOG and ASRM and RESOLVE: The National Infertility Organization agree.

Once again, do you trust doctors who understand the medical issues, or do you trust politicians and interest groups who are willing to do whatever it takes to achieve their agendas?

Statement on Mississippi HB-1196

March 15th, 2012 | Posted by Atlee Breland in Legislation | Mississippi - (Comments Off)

Yesterday evening, the Mississippi House of Representatives passed HB-1196, sponsored by Rep. Andy Gipson. We’ve had a lot of questions, from both the public and the media, about our position on this bill.

First and most importantly, Parents Against Personhood does not oppose the larger goal of this bill. We do not support it either, because we are neutral on questions of elective abortion.

HB-1196 is primarily a ban on abortion. It bans all abortions after a heartbeat is detectable, which happens roughly two weeks after you miss your period. It will effectively end abortion in Mississippi, but it does contain exceptions for life-threatening pregnancy complications. It also imposes a mandatory ultrasound requirement. It does not contain exceptions for rape and incest.

We limit our concerns to one specific clause: the portion of the bill which defines the “unborn human individual” as beginning at fertilization.

We’re aware that the presence of this clause means that HB-1196 is already being widely viewed as a personhood bill. We are alert for any possible attempt to create “back-door personhood”, and oppose all legislative efforts to circumvent the decisive defeat of Initiative 26 and impose personhood on Mississippi.

Our concern is whether putting this language into the law creates legal precedent for courts or future legislation to declare that personhood exists in Mississippi law. Indeed, courts in other states have cited similar legislation in personhood-related rulings.

We want to be very clear that our questions are limited to this one clause, and that we do not oppose the heartbeat bill. We do oppose language which defines personhood as beginning at fertilization. We will be carefully examining this clause to determine whether courts could potentially interpret it to create personhoood.

Again, we do not support or oppose this bill’s intentions, or the majority of its language. We do express our reservations about this specific clause, and the way in which it could be used in other contexts.

We encourage you to support or oppose the goals of HB-1196 and similar legislation as your own conscience dictates.

Today, Personhood USA launched what they’re calling “a major media blitz” in support of Oklahoma SB-1433:

Personhood USA began a massive media campaign on Tuesday in support of the Oklahoma Personhood Act. The pro-life organization has announced that they will run both a 30 second and a 60 second radio spot and a television ad

Let’s do something unusual: let’s talk about how much all that media coverage costs. Now, I’m not a campaign expert, but I have bought campaign ads here in Mississippi, and I have contacted media outlets in Oklahoma to get pricing.

If they’re following standard ad-frequency practices, Personhood USA is spending somewhere well north of $50,000 on that media coverage.

Fifty thousand dollars. No matter how you slice it, that’s a lot of money. And let’s not forget that they’ve already spent tens of thousands of dollars on two separate rounds of statewide robo-calls.

Why would an out-of-state political organization spend close to $100,000 on campaigning for an Oklahoma “foundational principle”? If they’re spending that kind of PAC money, it’s because they expect SB-1433 to achieve their political goals.

Personhood USA spent $1 million in Mississippi last fall on the failed attempt to pass personhood. Now they’re bringing their money to Oklahoma, to try to buy the legislative result they haven’t been able to get anywhere else.

But Personhood USA won’t be around to live with the unintended consequences. If SB-1433 passes, Oklahoma families will be the ones paying the price.

They do not speak for me

March 12th, 2012 | Posted by Atlee Breland in IVF | Media - (2 Comments)

My own history as an infertility patient is publicly documented, but I don’t usually choose to make it the primary focus of this site. After last week’s Personhood Mississippi press conference, though, I want to get personal here for a little bit.

Because I like to hear people’s statements for myself, I went to that press conference to listen to the Women for Personhood. I left it angry, very angry, and that has only intensified with a few days’ distance. This week’s Jackson Free Press goes right to the core of it:

Sigrest said women who oppose personhood do not speak for all women. “We are the women for personhood, and we want to share our side with you,” she said…. “Abortion is war on women,” [Anne Reed] told the JFP after the press conference. “… Abortion damages a woman in every way–physically, psychologically, emotionally, spiritually–in every way.”

I am now six years past the day when I held a pregnancy test in shaking hands, blinking through sudden tears to make sure I wasn’t imagining that second line. I write this with my three children clustered on the sofa next to me, and I will never go through infertility again. I have mostly worked through the emotional fallout of this complex failure of simple biology. I am a recovered infertile.

But I haven’t forgotten. Neither has my husband. We are so grateful for what we have, and so aware that we were lucky where others weren’t. Why us, and not so many others? We’ll never know.

I don’t presume to speak for Ashley Sigrest, or Anne Reed, or any of the other women on those steps last week. I never have. The only person I speak for is myself, and here is what I have to say:

You do not get to tell me whether I can become a mother.

Make no mistake: that is exactly what’s at issue here. As our FAQ discusses at length, IVF simply isn’t compatible with personhood. Oh, they may say they’re not anti-IVF, but their legislation, and their campaign literature, and their media statements tell the full story.

Thursday afternoon, one of these Women for Personhood told me, “You know, you don’t have a RIGHT to do IVF.”

Her words made me incandescently angry, but she is technically correct: there is no constitutional right to pursue infertility treatment. There is no Constitutional or legal protection for women and men who simply want to become parents, but who need a doctor’s help to get there.

Remember that, when personhood advocates tell you that their bills won’t override Supreme Court decisions. There are no Supreme Court decisions specifically protecting your access to IVF.

If you are an infertility patient, your only legal protection is that you have privacy rights to undergo any sort of medical treatment you like, as long as it doesn’t violate other people’s rights. Add in embryonic personhood, and everything changes.

Every single national medical organization involved in infertility treatment understands that personhood will effectively end IVF — ACOG, ASRM, RESOLVE: The National Infertility Association, and every reproductive endocrinologist in the country. Ask the Oklahoma medical community, or the Mississippi doctors who fought Initiative 26 in 2011.

No “loophole” or “exception” can erase that fundamental conflict. Anyone who says otherwise either doesn’t understand the medical facts — or they are hoping that YOU don’t.

But infertility patients like me do, because we’ve learned the calculus of heartbreak: 21 eggs become 2 embryos become no baby. Or, if we land on the slender side of the probabilities, six eggs become two brown-haired daughters.

So no, I don’t speak for those Women for Personhood.

But I will not let them speak for me.

New Mississippi initiative petition announced

March 9th, 2012 | Posted by Atlee Breland in Legislation | Mississippi - (Comments Off)

Yesterday, Personhood Mississippi held a press conference to announce their plans to file another personhood ballot initiative for 2013 or 2014.

Personhood Mississippi president Les Riley stated that attorney Stephen Crampton, author of the failed 2011 Initiative 26, will be working to draft the new language. The language has not currently been finalized or filed with the Secretary of State, so the new initiative has not yet begun its path to the ballot.

The deadline to appear on the 2012 ballot has passed, and it is somewhat unlikely that the measure will qualify for 2013. Failed initiatives cannot reappear on the ballot for two years, and Election Day 2013 falls slightly before the two-year threshold date. Unless the Attorney General judges that the measure differs substantially from Initiative 26, it will not be allowed on the 2013 ballot.

After the final certification of the ballot language, which takes roughly a month or more from the initial filing date, supporters have one year to gather about 98,100 signatures. Those signatures must be submitted before the start of the legislative session in the year of the election — a further barrier to a 2013 election, since this shortens their signature-gathering period by several months. Again, a 2014 ballot appearance looks more likely.

Regardless of the year, we urge Mississippians NOT to sign any such initiative petition, and not to put our state through another divisive campaign for a measure which will hurt women’s and families’ access to contraception, infertility treatment, and pregnancy care.