IVF and the Anti-Abortion Movement

Considerations for Advocacy Against Overturning Roe v. Wade

  • Stephanie K. Boys Indiana University
  • Evan M. Harris Indiana University
Keywords: In vitro fertilization (IVF), policy advocacy, abortion, Roe v. Wade, life at conception laws


As the anti-abortion movement gains ground in the United States, it is important to explore the potential impact of overturning Roe v. Wade (1973) on the practice of IVF (in vitro fertilization). If the United States Supreme Court abandoned the legal right to early pregnancy terminations, it would open the door for states to enforce laws defining life to begin at conception. In all likelihood, legally establishing life to begin at conception may make IVF far less likely to be successful, significantly more expensive, more likely to result in high risk pregnancies with multiples, and more medically invasive. As the prevalence of IVF grows, this is a practice that should no longer be ignored in the political discourse on abortion. Instead, the unintended consequences of life at conception bills on the cost, availability, safety, and success rates of IVF can provide a strong argument in the toolbox of strategies for social workers lobbying against anti-abortion legislation.

Author Biographies

Stephanie K. Boys, Indiana University

Assistant Professor of Social Work

Evan M. Harris, Indiana University

Social of Social Work

Doctoral candidate


ACLU of Alabama (2019, May 24). ACLU, Planned Parenthood file lawsuit challenging Alabama abortion ban [Press Release]. Retrieved from https://www.aclualabama.org/en/press-releases/aclu-planned-parenthood-file-lawsuit-challenging-alabama-abortion-ban

ACLU of Georgia (2019, July 23). ACLU, Center for Reproductive Rights, Planned Parenthood file motion for preliminary injunction on Georgia abortion ban [Press Release]. Retrieved from https://www.acluga.org/en/press-releases/press-release-aclu-center-reproductive-rights-planned-parenthood-file-motion

American Society for Reproductive Medicine. (2017). Performing the embryo transfer: A guideline. Fertility and Sterility, 107(4), 882-896.

Arkansas Human Life Protection Act, S.B. 149, 92nd Gen. Assemb., Reg. Sess. (Ark. 2019)

Baron, N., & Bazzell, J. (2014). Assisted reproductive technologies. The Georgetown Journal of Gender and the Law, 15, 57-93.

Benagiano, G., & Gianaroli, L. (2004). The new Italian IVF legislation. Reproductive BioMedicine Online, 9(2), 117-125. doi: https://doi.org/10.1016/s1472-6483(10)62118-9

Boggio, A. (2005). Italy enacts new law on medically assisted reproduction, Human Reproduction, 20(5), 1153-1157. doi: https://doi.org/10.1093/humrep/deh871

Boys, S. (2010). Let’s talk about same sex: How social workers can make judges listen. Advances in Social Work, 11(2), 117-128. doi: https://doi.org/10.18060/432

Boys, S., & Walsh, J. S. (2017). The dilemma of spare embryos after IVF success: Social workers’ role in helping clients consider disposition options. Advances in Social Work, 18(2), 583-594. doi: https://doi.org/10.18060/21551

Browne, C. M., & Hynes, B. J. (1990). The legal status of frozen embryos: Analysis and proposed guidelines for a uniform law. Journal of Legislation, 17, 97-122.

Byrnes, T.A. & Segers, M.C. (1992), The Catholic Church and the politics of abortion: A view from the states. San Francisco, CA: Westview Press.

Carrick, P. (1995). Medical Ethics in Antiquity: Philosophical perspectives on abortion and euthanasia. Dordrecht, Netherlands: Springer.

Center for Reproductive Rights. (2018, August 30). Center for Reproductive Rights opposes confirmation of Judge Brett Kavanaugh [Press Release]. Retrieved from https://reproductiverights.org/press-room/center-for-reproductive-rights-opposes-confirmation-of-judge-brett-kavanaugh

Center for Responsive Politics. (2018). Opensectrets.org. Retrieved from http://www.opensecrets.org/lobby/lookup.php

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2011). Assisted reproductive technology success rates: National summary and fertility clinic reports. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/art/pdf/2011-report/national-summary/art-2011-national-summary-report.pdf

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2017). ART success rates: Preliminary data, 2015. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/art/artdata/index.html

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Center for National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, Division of Reproductive Health. (2019). 2017 Assisted Reproductive Technology: Fertility Clinic Success Rates Report. Retrieved from ftp://ftp.cdc.gov/pub/Publications/art/ART-2017-Clinic-Report-Full.pdf

Costa, M. (1996). Abortion: A reference handbook (2nd ed.). Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO.

Council on Social Work Education [CSWE]. (2015). 2015 Educational policy and accreditation standards for baccalaureate and master’s social work programs. Alexandria, VA: Author.

Craddock, J. J. (2017). Protecting prenatal persons: Does the Fourteenth Amendment prohibit abortion? Harvard Journal of Law and Public Policy, 40(2), 539-572.

Crockin, S. L., & Debele, G. A. (2014). Ethical issues in assisted reproduction: A primer for family law attorneys. Journal of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers, 27, 289-357.

Davis, M. (2014). Maryland “embryo adoption”: Religious entanglement in the Maryland Stem Cell Research Act of 2006. University of Pennsylvania Journal of Law and Social Change, 17(3), 291-327.

Eckholm, E. (2011, October 25). Push for ‘personhood’ amendment represents new tack in abortion fight. New York Times. Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/2011/10/26/us/politics/personhood-amendments-would-ban-nearly-all-abortions.html

Eisenstadt v. Baird, 405 U.S. 438 (1972).

Ely, G. E., Flaherty, C., Akers, L. S., & Noland, T. B. (2012). Social work student attitudes towards the social work perspective on abortion. Journal of Social Work Values & Ethics, 9(2), 34-45. doi: https://doi.org/10.1080/00981389.2011.642945

Engelman, P. C. (2011). A history of the birth control movement in America. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO.

Ferree, M. M., Gamson, W. A., Gerhards, J., & Rucht, D. (2002). Shaping abortion discourse: Democracy and the public sphere in Germany and the United States. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

doi: https://doi.org/10.1017/cbo9780511613685

Griswold v. Connecticut, 381 U.S. 479 (1965).

Guttmacher Institute. (2019). State policy updates: Major developments in sexual & reproductive health. Retrieved https://www.guttmacher.org/state-policy

Jaiswal, P. (2017). U.S. IVF services market by cycle type [fresh cycle (non-donor), thawed IVF cycle (non-donor), and donor egg IVF cycle], and end user (fertility clinics, hospitals, surgical centers, and clinical research institutes) - Opportunity analysis and industry forecast, 2014-2022. Retrieved from https://www.alliedmarketresearch.com/US-IVF-services-market

Johnston, J., & Gusamano, M. K. (2013). Why we should all pay for fertility treatment: An argument from ethics and policy. Hastings Center Report, 43(2), 18-21.

doi: https://doi.org/10.1002/hast.155

Lawrence v. Texas, 539 U.S. 588 (2003).

Mastenbroek, S., Van der Veen, F., Aflatoonian, A., Shapiro, B., Bossuyt, P., & Repping, S. (2011). Embryo selection in IVF. Human Reproduction, 26(5), 964-966.

doi: https://doi.org/10.1093/humrep/der050

McAvey, B., Zapantis, A., Jindal, S., Lieman, H. J., & Polotsky, A. J. (2011). How many eggs are needed to produce an assisted reproductive technology baby: Is more always better? Fertility and Sterility, 96(2), 332-335.

doi: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.fertnstert.2011.05.099

Merton, R. K. (1936). The unanticipated consequences of purposive social action. American Sociological Review, 1(6), 894-904. doi: https://doi.org/10.2307/2084615

Murphy, J. B. (2013). Access to in vitro fertilization deserves increased regulation in the United States. Journal of Sex & Marital Therapy, 39(2), 85-92.

doi: https://doi.org/10.1080/0092623x.2011.632072

National Association of Social Workers [NASW]. (2018a). Code of ethics of the National Association of Social Workers. Washington, D.C.: Author.

NASW. (2018b). Social work speaks (11th ed.). Washington, DC: Author.

doi: https://doi.org/10.1093/sw/39.6.755

Nossiff, R. (2001). Before Roe: Abortion policy in the States. Philadelphia, PA: Temple University Press.

O'Brien, M. (2010). An intersection of ethics and law: The frozen embryo dilemma and the chilling choice between life and death. Whittier Law Review, 32, 171-196.

Ockhuijsen, H., van den Hoogen, A., Eijkemans, M., Macklon, N., & Boivin, J. (2014). Clarifying the benefits of the positive reappraisal coping intervention for women waiting for the outcome of IVF. Human Reproduction, 29 12), 2712-2718.

doi: https://doi.org/10.1093/humrep/deu253

Paulk, L. B. (2014). Embryonic personhood: Implications for assisted reproductive technology in international human rights law. Journal of Gender, Social Policy & the Law, 22(4), 781-823.

Phillips, A. (2016, June 1). 14 States have passed laws this year making it harder to get an abortion. The Washington Post. Retrieved from https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/the-fix/wp/2016/06/01/14-states-have-passed-laws-making-it-harder-to-get-an-abortion-already-this-year/?utm_term=.73ea4ef22029

Planned Parenthood v. Casey, 505 U.S. 833 (1992).

Riezzo, I., Neri, M., Bello, S., Pomara, C., & Turillazzi, E. (2016). Italian law on medically assisted reproduction: Do women’s autonomy and health matter? BMC Women’s Health, 16(44), 1-7. doi: https://doi.org/10.1186/s12905-016-0324-4

Roe v. Wade, 410 U.S. 113 (1973).

Seelye, K. Q. (2011, November 8). Mississippi voters reject anti-abortion measure. The New York Times. Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/2011/11/09/us/politics/votes-across-the-nation-could-serve-as-a-political-barometer.html

Shahbazi, M. N., Jedruski, A., Vuoristo, S., Recher, G., Hupalowska, A., Bolton, V,., …, Zernicka-Goetz, M. (2016). Self-organization of the human embryo in the absence of maternal tissues. Nature Cell Biology, 18(6), 700-708.

doi: https://doi.org/10.1038/ncb3347

Smith, B. D. (2017). Reproductive justice: A policy window for social work advocacy. Social Work, 62 (3), 221-226. doi: https://doi.org/10.1093/sw/swx015

Taylor, J. (2017, January 31). President Trump nominates Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court. National Public Radio. Retrieved from http://www.npr.org/2017/01/31/512708127/president-trump-to-announce-supreme-court-nominee-shortly

Tucker, C. (2014). Abandoned embryos: The dilemma of eternal storage. New Hampshire Bar Journal, Spring/Summer, 18-23.

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Population Affairs [HHS]. (2017). Embryo adoption. Retrieved from https://www.hhs.gov/opa/about-opa-and-initiatives/embryo-adoption/index.html

Van Voorhis, B. J., Syrop, C. H., Allen, B. D., Sparks, A. E. T., & Stovall, D. W. (1995). The efficacy and cost effectiveness of embryo cryopreservation compared with other assisted reproductive techniques. Fertility and Sterility, 64(3), 647-650. doi: https://doi.org/10.1016/s0015-0282(16)57808-x

West Alabama Women’s Center v. Williamson. No. 17-15208, 2018 U.S. App. LEXIS 23556 (11th Cir. Aug. 22, 2018).

Winter, V. R., Kattari, S. K., Begun, S., & McKay, K. (2016). Personal and professional values: Relationships between social workers’ reproductive health knowledge, attitudes, and ethical decision-making. Journal of Social Work Values and Ethics, 13(2), 35-46.

Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt, 136 S. Ct. 2292, 2354 (2016).