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Roe’s reversal leaves Jewish IVF couples in a legal and emotional crossfire

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Yael and Paul,* a Jewish couple who live in Alabama, had been trying to get pregnant for two years, and began infertility treatments over a year ago. They were thrilled this spring that after six frozen embryo transfers, Yael was pregnant with a baby girl.

However, 10 weeks into Yael’s pregnancy, and a mere 11 days after Roe v. Wade was overturned, Yael and Paul discovered during the first ultrasound something was very wrong: The baby girl had a serious anomaly that would prevent her from surviving outside of the womb.

To make matters worse, their genetic counselor informed them that because the diagnosis was still unclear as to whether the genetic anomaly was technically lethal, they may not be permitted to abort in Alabama due to the Dobbs decision, and would have to travel out of state.

Before the Dobbs decision, couples experiencing infertility could choose appropriate reproductive measures for their infertility journeys. If a long-desired pregnancy went wrong, termination was an option. However, the lawmakers who have banned abortion rarely consider the complicated nature of pregnancy and abortion, particularly from the side of those determined to create new life.

Yael and Paul are clients of mine at the Jewish Fertility Foundation. I founded the JFF after my own experiences with infertility treatment were subsidized by the Israeli government, as I was living in Israel at the time.

Thirty-one states do not require insurers to cover any portion of the costs of fertility treatments. When an IVF cycle costs an average of $20,000 in the U.S. (with no guarantee of success), many people sacrifice their future financial stability to pay for it, or they give up hope of conceiving as the costs are simply too high. I wanted to provide American Jewish families with the type of support I had received, so the JFF engages hopeful parents by providing financial assistance, emotional support and education.

Infertility affects 1 in 6 women in the Jewish community. Until the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, most of our “club” did not connect infertility with politics. Today the infertility journey is becoming fraught with new, politically complicated challenges, even trauma.

Infertility treatments invariably add a layer of risk to pregnancy. Medical experts agree that compared to spontaneously conceived pregnancies, those resulting from assisted reproductive technologies have a higher rate of adverse outcomes like preeclampsia and birth defects. Such complications can endanger the mother’s life and hinder the fetus from surviving outside the womb. Because of these physical and mental risks, the possibility of abortion cannot exist separately from infertility — a medical truth that the Dobbs decision completely ignores.


RELATED: Groups launched to help Jews with IVF face uncertain landscape after Roe reversal


Mental health experts like reproductive psychologist Dr. Lauren Berman recognize how restricted abortion access takes a toll on fertility patients who are already anxious. Berman explains that “a couple undergoing fertility treatment experiences distress and emotional turmoil of equal intensity as someone going through cancer treatment.” Politicians in state houses are not attending to the human suffering that will result from these decisions.

Yael and Paul, upon ultimately receiving the lethal diagnosis of their baby’s abnormality, decided to induce labor at 17 weeks, which, technically, is an abortion. This decision thrust them into the confusing vortex of analyzing laws and the legal status of abortion itself. Due to an exception for lethal fetal abnormalities, the termination would be legal under Alabama’s new anti-abortion law.

This article first appeared in the Forward.

Elana Frank
Elana Frank

Elana Frank is the founder and CEO of the Jewish Fertility Foundation.

Forward

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