Mar 11, 2024 - News

Democrats want to expand protections for IVF in Illinois

Assisted reproductive technology procedures performed per 1 million women in 2021
Note: Assisted reproductive technology refers to all treatments or procedures that include the handling of human eggs or embryos to help a woman become pregnant; Reproduced from the CDC; Chart: Axios Visuals

Democratic lawmakers in Springfield are pushing to further protect in vitro fertilization in Illinois, ranging from expanding insurance coverage to incentivizing doctors to relocate here.

Why it matters: Alabama's Supreme Court recently ruled that frozen embryos created through IVF are children under state law, meaning fertility clinics in the state could be held legally liable for disposing of surplus embryos. The Alabama state legislature passed a law late last week protecting IVF.

Zoom in: Illinois parents undergoing IVF currently benefit from protections enshrined in state law, too. The Reproductive Health Act from 2019 declares plainly that a fertilized egg, embryo, or fetus does not have independent rights.

  • Plus, lawmakers last year added "assisted reproduction" to the definition of reproductive health protections for health care providers and patients.

By the numbers: 4,791 infants were born in Illinois in 2021 with the use of assisted reproductive technologies like IVF, according to the most recent Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data.

  • More than 11,000 embryo transfers were performed to get that number of infants. They accounted for 3.6% of all Illinois births that year.

Between the lines: IVF patients usually need multiple embryos to give birth to just one healthy baby, because the process often involves embryo attrition, Lucky Sekhon, reproductive endocrinologist and infertility specialist at RMA of New York, tells Axios.

  • Many embryos used in IVF are frozen and must be thawed before getting transferred — a process that not all survive.
  • Not all thawed embryos pass genetic testing and are considered to have high reproductive potential.
  • Not all embryos of high reproductive potential successfully implant into the uterus. And not all embryos that implant lead to a healthy baby — pregnancy loss is possible.

Three or more embryos may be required for a patient to have one pregnancy, Sekhon says.

  • Of those that thaw and pass genetic testing, about half to two-thirds lead to pregnancy in an ideal scenario, she says.

IVF patients can choose not to discard their unused embryos, but other options may not be a fit for everyone, particularly if people have embryos that are graded unlikely to lead to a healthy pregnancy.

Reality check: If laws prohibit clinics from discarding embryos, this could increase the time, cost and physical and emotional toll it takes to get pregnant via IVF.

  • Clinics could be deterred from storing multiple embryos, and that could lead to clinicians retrieving and fertilizing fewer eggs per cycle, Sekhon says.
  • With fewer eggs per cycle to work with, patients might need more egg retrievals to be successful, she says.
  • And if patients had to store all extra embryos indefinitely — even those that had low chances of resulting in a healthy pregnancy — those costs would add up.

The bottom line: Without the ability to discard surplus embryos, IVF — already expensive and out of reach for many — could become even less accessible.


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