IVF Is A Horrible Substitute For Real Reproductive Health


Published June 19, 2024

The Federalist

In vitro fertilization (IVF) does not treat infertility.

The procedure has been in the news a lot lately. Democrats are trying to turn IVF into a campaign issue, which has Republicans panicking (as usual). Meanwhile, Southern Baptists have concluded that the IVF industry’s standard practices — creating “extra” human embryos, eugenically screening them, and indefinitely storing or outright destroying the leftover embryos — are wrong, and that Christians ought to reflect seriously on the ethics of IVF in itself.

Yet overlooked in all of this is that IVF is a workaround for infertility, rather than a real treatment for it. Sometimes IVF works. But despite the current hype, it also has a high failure rate, is expensive, has risks and potential complications, and, of course, comes with a bevy of ethical issues. Nonetheless, there is a tendency to quickly push women into trying IVF without treating the underlying health conditions that result in fertility problems.

A welcome response to this comes from Republican Sens. Chuck Grassley of Iowa, Cindy Hyde-Smith of Mississippi, and James Lankford of Oklahoma, who have introduced the RESTORE ActAccording to Hyde-Smith, this will “focus federal resources toward promoting research on the leading causes of infertility, while making information on possible treatments more readily available to the women and men struggling with fertility problems.” Which is to say, it would push the relevant federal agencies and programs to actually try to help heal people of the underlying medical causes of their fertility problems.

The RESTORE Act is not about IVF, which it does not restrict in any way (and touches on only to clarify that medical professionals and organization cannot be penalized for declining to participate in IVF or other reproductive procedures that they object to on religious or moral grounds). IVF is relevant only because the current emphasis on IVF has highlighted that it is not enough.

Whether it succeeds or fails, IVF does not diagnose, let alone treat, underlying reproductive health issues such as endometriosis, adenomyosis, ovarian cysts, uterine fibroids, or fallopian tube obstructions. These conditions are often painful as well as damaging to reproductive health, but though they may be diagnosed prior to attempting IVF, doctors sometimes push patients toward IVF without thoroughly looking for or attempting to treat the underlying sources of infertility.

Holistic Approach

Likewise, there is a marked ignorance in American culture about natural reproductive health. As Bethany Mandel wrote in a recent piece for Tablet magazine:

Think back for a moment to health class in high school: You were taught all of the ways to avoid pregnancy. You were taught about condoms, hormonal birth control, IUDs, STDs, and how much you don’t want to get pregnant as a teen, lest you ruin your life and all of your future potential. But did anyone teach you about how getting pregnant actually works? Did you learn about your ovulation cycle, about when you’re at your most fertile and what happens to your body that signals that peak fertility window? If you’re like me, you had no way of knowing. I was put on the pill in my teens because of a history of ovarian cysts, and spent a decade suppressing my body’s natural menstrual cycle. I had no idea what ovulation was or what it entailed, because I practically never experienced it until I was ready to conceive.

Women are expected to spend years with no sense of what their natural, non-suppressed fertility feels like, yet they are also expected to have everything immediately work when they want a baby and drop their birth control. This attitude treats women’s fertility like a light switch, and it often extends into the medical profession — just observe how women are often pushed to get (back) on birth control before they even leave the hospital with their new baby.

But fertility is often not that simple, and treating it in this way does real harm to some patients. Women ought to be given better care, and so the RESTORE Act aims to increase medical understanding and education regarding human fertility and to encourage more comprehensive approaches to treating reproductive health problems. It expands the range of research and treatment beyond the current focus on using hormonal birth control to squelch natural fertility and push for IVF in cases of infertility.

Nor does this bill require new funding from Congress. Instead, it pushes existing agencies and programs to take a more holistic approach to reproductive health, one that is more in tune with the importance of everything from fertility education and awareness to the need to treat the reproductive health issues that often result in infertility. For all of the left’s talk about reproductive health, here we see that it is conservatives working to actually restore reproductive health.

However, doing so should not be controversial or partisan. Even the most passionate supporters of IVF should recognize that IVF is not a cure-all. Indeed, it is not a cure at all. But the response to infertility should include efforts to heal people and restore their natural fertility, and this bill is a welcome step toward that.


Nathanael Blake, Ph.D. is a Postdoctoral Fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center. His primary research interests are American political theory, Christian political thought, and the intersection of natural law and philosophical hermeneutics. His published scholarship has included work on Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Hans-Georg Gadamer, Alasdair MacIntyre, Russell Kirk and J.R.R. Tolkien. He is currently working on a study of Kierkegaard and labor. As a cultural observer and commentator, he is also fascinated at how our secularizing culture develops substitutes for the loss of religious symbols, meaning and order.

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