- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 16, 2012

RICHMOND — Her voice shaking, Whitney Anderson of Roanoke said she always wanted to become a mother. But she couldn’t. Stricken with a disease, she had tried in vitro fertilization but lost five pregnancies.

Ms. Anderson wondered warily on Thursday if, under a proposed “personhood” bill defining life as beginning at conception, she or her doctor would have been held criminally liable in those cases.

“Since the suspected cause of my miscarriage is a hostile uterine environment, would that be endangering an embryo? Would I not get the chance?” she asked. “The thought of getting prosecuted after the heartache of a miscarriage makes me sick. Trust me, nobody cares more about my embryos than me and my husband. Nobody wants to protect them more than I do.”

A nonprofit advocacy group called Resolve: The National Infertility Association broached such potential unintended consequences of the high-profile legislation that was approved Tuesday by the House of Delegates. A plethora of concerns have been raised about the legality of abortion and most forms of birth control should the bill become law, but it could have profound effects on infertile men and women as well, the group’s executive director, Barbara Collura, said at a news conference.

Ms. Collura said the sponsor of the bill, Delegate Robert G. Marshall contacted the group Wednesday and said a section of the bill stipulating that nothing will be interpreted as affecting “lawful assisted conception” specifically exempts infertility treatment.

“After thorough investigation, we believe he’s wrong, and the public needs to know it,” she said.

After consulting with experts on reproductive medicine and law, she said, they found that infertility patients would not be protected, because the section of Virginia code defining “assisted conception” would be fundamentally changed by the legislation.

For instance, any procedures that result in the loss or risk of loss of an embryo, such as freezing embryos, would become illegal, the group argued.

Mr. Marshall, Prince William Republican, has dismissed such arguments. He pointed out that no doctor has been prosecuted as a result of a 1986 Missouri law with a preamble stating that life begins at conception. The law was upheld as constitutional by the Supreme Court in 1989, but the high court did not address the preamble.

Any legal argument would do little to assuage Mrs. Anderson. Four of the six times they tried in vitro fertilization, Mrs. Anderson and her husband, Erick, used a process called cryopreservation that relies on the freezing of embryos.

“In this situation, if cryopreservation were not allowed, my embryos would have died, and that would be on Virginia,” she said. “The Virginia legislature is not my physician.”

She and her husband currently are pursuing gestational surrogacy.

“Isn’t it ironic this legislation, aimed at those who don’t even want children, would take away my rights and my dream to have a child? Me — the person who’s fought and clawed her way through this disease,” she said, her voice breaking. “Me — the person who would move heaven and Earth to have a child.

“I will be the innocent bystander that becomes a casualty of this legislation,” she said. “Please don’t take away my right. Please don’t take away my right for the care that I need and deserve right here in my own state,” she concluded, in tears. “Thank you.”

• David Sherfinski can be reached at dsherfinski@washingtontimes.com.

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