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Egg freezing, IVF, and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez: Why women are not guaranteed to ‘have it all’

Ocasio-Cortez

In a recent interview with Vanity Fair, Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez discussed egg freezing and in vitro fertilization (IVF) as viable options for her own childbearing in the distant future. Egg freezing and in vitro fertilization may be marketed as part of the plan for women to “have it all,” but they actually cause women and babies harm.

According to Vanity Fair, Ocasio-Cortez and boyfriend Riley Roberts got a French bulldog “to force [Ocasio-Cortez] to not live and breathe work,” she said. The article explained, “Dog motherhood is the only kind she can fathom at the moment. ‘I’m sitting here, I’m like, Do I freeze my eggs? Can I afford to do that?… My orthodontist was telling me about how she was doing IVF, and I’m, like, asking her what her experience is like.'”

Ocasio-Cortez’s breezy references to egg freezing and IVF gloss over very real ethical and physical concerns surrounding both.

An analysis in The Federalist noted Ocasio-Cortez’s comments were particularly striking because IVF and egg freezing “were originally intended to be last-ditch efforts for couples who could not conceive any other way, but AOC is suggesting they are her first and best option.”

An article at Extend Fertility clarifies the similarities and distinctions between egg freezing and IVF. Both involve the prescription of hormone injections to induce the woman’s body to produce multiple eggs. Those eggs are then retrieved by a doctor during a surgical procedure. While IVF implies fertilizing the egg with sperm in a laboratory atmosphere immediately after retrieval of the eggs, egg freezing implies the flash freezing of the retrieved eggs for later use, potentially years or decades down the road.

Live Action News has previously pointed out that egg freezing is often offered as an insurance benefit by companies primarily concerned with “getting more work out of women” during their prime childbearing years. But egg retrieval carries the risks of bleeding, infection, damage to the bowel, bladder, or blood vessel, miscarriage, and ectopic pregnancy. Women are also at risk for ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome — a condition that can occur in women who take fertility medication to stimulate egg growth. It’s rare, but can be life-threatening. In addition, egg freezing often results in childbearing at later ages (some women have chosen to “use” their eggs in their late 40s and even 50s) which is associated with increased health risks for the mother including high blood pressure, cardiac-related complications, and an increased risk of developing breast cancer. There are risks for the child as well, including premature birth and heart defects.

READ: ‘Leftover children’: Three tragic problems with in vitro fertilization

Health experts have furthermore warned women against assuming that their frozen eggs are an “insurance policy” for having children in the future. According to The Federalist, “failure rates in the fertility industry are extremely high. […] In January, scientists in the United Kingdom presented data that suggests the live birth rate using a patient’s own frozen eggs is a mere 18 percent. The success rate is 31 percent when donor eggs are used.”

While egg freezing was considered “experimental” up until 2012, IVF has a longer track record that is even more fraught with physical and ethical issues. Live Action News has frequently highlighted the commodification of children inherent in the IVF industry, including determining what to do with the “unused” embryos. Concerns include embryo abandonment, “selective reduction,” and the eugenic practice of screening and weeding out embryos deemed inferior.

Physical health risks for moms undergoing IVF include significant and even debilitating mood swings from the hormone injections, ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome, and egg-retrieval complications. Risks to baby include preterm birth, low birth weight, pediatric hypertension, heart disease, and birth defects, especially if the babies are multiples.

Ocasio-Cortez’s desire to become a mother in the future is natural and healthy. Unfortunately, egg freezing and in vitro fertilization can offer a false hope that future conception is a done deal, when in fact childbearing is anything but certain. Women’s bodies are not machines to be manipulated and when they are treated as such, there can be serious consequences.

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