Two weeks later the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the federal right to abortion, Ye Yuan learned of a woman who wanted to revoke her decision to donate her embryos to scientific research. The woman, who contacted Yuan anonymously through a fertility counselor, feared that if Colorado law changed to outlaw discarding or experimenting with human embryos, she would be forced to freeze her. indefinitely. In a year, or five years, could he change a law to keep him from having the last word on what happened to them?
In states where human embryonic research is legal, people undergoing IVF often have the option of donating any excess fertilized embryos to scientific research. They are sometimes used to look for potential treatments for diseases such as diabetes or, as in the case of the Yuan, to investigate ways to make IVF more successful. “These rejected embryos are really one of the key pieces to maintaining the high quality of our platform here,” says Yuan, who is research director at the Colorado Center for Reproductive Medicine (CCRM). But as a result of the Dobbs verdict, worries that people are less likely to donate their spare embryos for research and then that embryonic research may become the next target of anti-abortion activists.
“It’s like you’re a girl living in a dark room. You know there are bad guys outside, but you’re not too worried because the door is locked,” Yuan says. “But then someone tells you the door has been opened.” Yuan fears that anything that slows access to human embryos will end up slowing the progress of IVF, which is responsible for between 1 and 2 percent of all births in the United States annually.
The majority opinion written by Judge Samuel Alito does not highlight IVF or human embryonic research, but his choice of words to describe abortion could also be considered applicable to embryos outside the body, says Glenn Cohen, bioethicist and law professor . at Harvard Law School. The right to abortion is different from other rights, Alito points out in the opinion, because it destroys the “potential life” and life of an “unborn human being.”
“The same thing he uses to distinguish abortion seems to me completely applicable to distinguishing embryos,” Cohen says. “It simply came to our notice then Dobbs that any state that wants to ban the destruction of embryos as part of the investigation is free to do so. “
Also important is the wording used by legislators to describe the beginning of human life. In at least nine states, laws are triggered: pieces of legislation designed to restrict abortion quickly after the fall of Roe—Includes language that implies that an egg cell becomes an “unborn child” or “unborn human being” at the precise moment of fertilization. In other words, according to these definitions, every human embryo, including the given embryos that could be used in scientific research, is a child to be born. Although most of these triggering laws apply specifically to pregnancy and therefore do not regulate embryos outside the human body, the idea that life begins at the very moment of fertilization could be used to guide embryonic research, says Cohen. “If you have that view, it’s not clear to me why you would exempt embryo destruction if you ban abortion. For me, that mistake is the same.”