IVF helped these two NC women have kids. Its future is uncertain.

An Alabama mom holds a photo of her daughter who she conceived via IVF as she tells her story to Secretary of US Health and Human Services Xavier Becerra, who hosted a panel discussion in February with families directly affected by the Alabama Supreme Court Court decision that endangered access to IVF. (AP Photo/Butch Dill)

By Dylan Rhoney

May 6, 2024

For many women, IVF provides their only opportunity to start a family, but the fertility treatment’s future is in doubt following a shocking ruling from the Alabama Supreme Court and ongoing attacks from far-right conservatives.

For Ashlee Beal, In vitro fertilization (IVF) provided what may have been her only opportunity to have a family.

The Sanford resident was diagnosed with premature ovarian failure at 27, which essentially meant that she went through premature menopause and is unable to conceive naturally.

“My only option to carry a child of my own was through using an egg donor, which then requires IVF or embryo donation,” Beal told Cardinal & Pine. “I think it’s important that people understand that it’s not a decision that people come by lightly or easily. It’s oftentimes a last resort option in order for people to have the opportunity to carry a pregnancy.”

She has had two children through IVF, and the cost has been exorbitant. Because her insurance does not cover IVF, the personal financial commitment for medication, procedures, the yearly fee to store frozen embryos, and other costs has been around $60,000.

But the cost was worth it to Beal.

“IVF allowed me to become a mother, one of the most special titles that I hold. It has given me opportunities and experiences that I did not think would be possible in the trenches of my infertility,” Beal said.

Wake County resident Stephanie Wheelous also relied on IVF to conceive. She’d spent much of her 20s and 30s focused on her career and personal growth before marrying in her 40s.

“I was really just waiting for the right time and the right partner to actually start a family,” she said.

Wheelous spent years trying to conceive, with no success.

“I really knew that IVF was my last and only option to even get pregnant,” Wheelous said.

She went through a years-long process of treatments that included multiple rounds of IVF at Carolina Conceptions in Raleigh, and at a clinic in Upstate New York. She estimates she spent around $50,000 on IVF, including treatments, medication, and travel to receive treatments. Wheelous was willing to pay such a high price because without the procedure, she wouldn’t have been able to have children.

For her, IVF provided an “…opportunity to be parents, to carry. That was the big thing for me, I wanted to carry. I didn’t want to have to use a surrogate. It just gives us an opportunity to feel whole,” she told Cardinal & Pine.

A miracle technology turned into a far-right target

Nationwide, roughly 2% of births are the result of IVF, meaning tens of thousands of parents have kids each year because of the fertility treatment. Until recently, IVF wasn’t a major political consideration. But a February ruling from the Alabama Supreme Court declared that frozen embryos created through IVF, are by law, children and that people can be held legally responsible for destroying them.

For the majority of Americans, the Alabama court’s ruling and the ensuing firestorm it caused may have been their first introduction to IVF and what the procedure entails.

“So many people out there know people who have done IVF, or have done IVF themselves. Very few people actually know much about it,” said Dr. Meaghan Bowling, a Raleigh-based fertility physician who assists hundred of patients each year, including both Wheelous and Beal.

@cardinalandpine

WATCH: Ever wanted to know how in-vitro fertilization (IVF) works? Dr. Meagan Bowling, a Raleigh physician, explains it. In recent months, IVF has been in the news following a decision by the Alabama Supreme Court that ruled embryos were legally children. 🎥 Dylan Rhoney for @cardinalandpine #northcarolina #ncpolitics #ivf #familyplanning #momtobe #roevwade #abortion #abortionrights #prolifegeneration

♬ original sound – Cardinal & Pine

IVF involves combining eggs and sperm in a lab to create embryos, one or more of which are then transferred into the woman’s uterus to increase the chances that one of them will eventually become viable. But about two-thirds of embryos created during IVF inexplicably stop growing in the lab, and getting rid of those non-viable embryos is simply part of the IVF process.

“IVF is certainly not perfect. Best case scenario is a 65% chance of pregnancy. We hope patients get pregnant on the first try, but the reality is that most patients will need two to three embryo transfers just to have one baby,” said Dr. Bowling.. “We don’t know why some embryos don’t work, and it just reflects our poor understanding of human reproduction … there are still so many details of embryos that we don’t understand.”

Other embryos are often frozen for future use, but are sometimes discarded if patients don’t need to use them, or if they have genetic abnormalities. Discarding these embryos, the Alabama court ruled, is the same as murder.

The court’s decision resulted in some clinics halting IVF services in the state, sending shockwaves across the country and raising fears that far-right conservatives will target IVF, the same way they have abortion rights. The Alabama state government has since passed a law protecting IVF patients and providers from criminal liability, though they did not address the underlying issue of whether embryos were considered people, and right-wing organizations like the Heritage Foundation continue to make clear they want to restrict IVF access.

More than 120 congressional Republicans, including Virginia Foxx, Richard Hudson, Dan Bishop, David Rouzer, and Greg Murphy from North Carolina, have also endorsed the “Life at Conception Act,” which states that the term “human being” encompasses life at all stages, including the moment of conception or fertilization. It does not include exceptions for IVF.

Is IVF at risk in North Carolina?

While no legislation or court rulings like Alabama’s has been proposed, implemented, or heard in North Carolina, Bowling says in light of the ruling, there is concern about what the future looks like for IVF services.

“I think it’s something that is very strongly on our radar this year. And our frustration is that if that decision were to take place in North Carolina, it would be frustrating in that politicians would be making medical decisions with no medical knowledge about any of this.”

“[To] not be able to use [IVF] would be really just devastating to the state of North Carolina, to the patients, and the doctors who feel so strongly about caring for their patients, and giving them the best possible option,” she said. “Probably about a third of the patients who come to us for help getting pregnant ultimately need IVF.”

Of that one-third, Bowling believes the majority would be unable to start a family without IVF services.

State courts and the future of reproductive rights

When the US Supreme Court ruled in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization that there was not a constitutional right to an abortion, overturning Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania v. Casey, states were once again given the final word on what reproductive freedoms would be permitted.

North Carolina Supreme Court Justice Allison Riggs said that this is the reality of post-Roe America, and two years removed from the Dobbs ruling, we are starting to see the long-term impacts. as state supreme courts across the country have issued rulings limiting reproductive rights in recent months.

“We’ve seen in Arizona, the state supreme court uphold a near total ban on abortion, the Florida Supreme Court uphold a six-week ban on abortion. So even though it’s been nearly two years since Dobbs, we are just now starting to feel the consequences of ‘sending this issue back to the states,’ and how the state supreme courts are going to be the last word on whether women have the right to access reproductive healthcare, and not just abortion but miscarriage treatment and IVF,” Justice Riggs said.

The issue is also a personal one for her.

“I’m the only woman of child-bearing age on either of our state appellate courts,” she said. “I want to start a family, but at age 42, I may need miscarriage treatment, and I may need IVF.”

When thinking of the women in Alabama going through IVF treatments when some clinics paused operations, Wheelous said it was “heart wrenching.”

“If there is a woman that is midway through the process, you’re being given injections… that can be painful, and then your belly, you’re full of eggs…and then to hear that you can’t continue on with the process—that’s a lot of blood, sweat, tears, heartache, that is out the window,” Wheelous said. “My heart went out to those ladies in Alabama that were in that place.”

Author

  • Dylan Rhoney

    Dylan Rhoney is an App State grad from Morganton who is passionate about travel, politics, history, and all things North Carolina. He lives in Raleigh.

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