Doctors at North Dakota’s only clinic offering in vitro fertilization (IVF) are speaking out to warn voters that Measure 1, a proposed personhood amendment in the state, would make the practice illegal.
Dr. Steffen Christensen, who helped found Sanford Reproductive Medicine Clinic 20 years ago, announced earlier this month that Measure 1 would “literally shut [the clinic] down,” ending IVF services for not only all North Dakota women, but many women from neighboring Minnesota. North Dakotans seeking IVF would be forced to travel out-of-state to receive treatment, restricting access for many. Doctors at the clinic, which has successfully helped families have more than 1,000 babies, have strongly opposed the Measure, which Dr. Stephanie Dahl says would make IVF treatments “impossible.”
Measure 1 would create an “inalienable right to life” for humans “at any stage of development” in the state constitution – including the moment of fertilization and conception. If passed by North Dakota voters in this election, it will be the first Personhood Amendment to take hold in the United States, banning all abortions in the state, without exception, and making illegal many forms of birth control, stem-cell research, and in vitro fertilization.
IVF involves surgically removing eggs from the ovaries, combining them with sperm in a laboratory, and then placing the fertilized eggs in the uterus. According to Dahl, IVF is an effective procedure for many patients, especially in cases with male-factor infertility. However, sometimes the procedure can create abnormal fertilized eggs, which could threaten the woman’s health. “However, under Measure 1 these abnormally fertilized eggs must be protected, even if they have no chance of growing into a health baby and will result in a miscarriage,” explained Dr. Dahl.
Measure 1 would subject Dr. Christensen and his colleagues to criminal charges for trying to help families who want to achieve a pregnancy. Even an accident in the lab that results in the destruction of a fertilized egg could become a criminal offense. Under these conditions, the Sanford Reproductive Medicine Clinic would be forced to close.
“It is ironic that personhood Measure 1 will eliminate the possibility of having a family for many North Dakota and Minnesota residents,” said Dr. Kristen Cain.
Measure 1 has been opposed by many leading health organizations, including the North Dakota Medical Association, which represents North Dakota doctors, as well as the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG). The AARP North Dakota has also expressed concern that the Measure goes too far, as it threatens end-of-life care, and other organizations have highlighted the Measure’s potential negative impact on organ donation.
College students in North Dakota, with the help of the Feminist Majority Foundation, are also organizing against Measure 1. Students have sounded the alarm over the Measure’s impact, not only on IVF, but also on women’s reproductive health and rights more broadly, pointing out that it directly threatens the Red River Valley Women’s Clinic, North Dakota’s only abortion clinic. One student, blogging on FeministCampus.org, wrote, “Women and their partners simply must be allowed access to choices that enable responsible reproductive health – including contraception and emergency contraception, IVF treatments, and safe abortion.”
“Giving constitutional rights to a nonviable fertilized egg, embryo, or fetus – which Measure 1 would do – is dangerous to women,” she continued. “Measure 1 would not only eliminate a woman’s right to choose abortion; it would destroy her control over her own reproductive health.”
Early voting in North Dakota takes place from October 27 to October 31. Election Day is November 4. There is no voter registration in North Dakota, but an ID is required.
Media Resources: North Dakotans Against Measure 1, 10/9/14; Fargo Forum 10/7/14; Feminist Campus 10/17/14, 10/6/14; AARP North Dakota; Northern Plains Conference United Church of Christ; Mayo Clinic; North Dakota Secretary of State