By Erin Heidt-Forsythe, author of Between Families and Frankenstein: The Politics of Egg Donation in the United States
“Women in politics are an important part of explaining the puzzle of the politics of egg donation in the US. Although egg donation is considered to be a women’s issue, the diverse roles of women in the politics of egg donation has long been ignored. “
Last month, in-vitro fertilization (IVF) turned forty years old. Louise Joy Brown, the world’s first “test tube” baby, was born a “perfectly normal child” in England on July 25, 1978. Four decades and 8 million babies later, the field of reproductive technologies has exploded.
Egg donation (which often used in conjunction with IVF) is one of the many reproductive technologies that offered at nearly 500 clinics across almost every state in the US. Third-party eggs are also part of medical research: donated and discarded eggs are an important source of material for state–funded stem cell research. While countries across the globe regulate egg donation, many see the US as the “wild west,” where people are able to purchase and sell human eggs without government interference. In fact, there is only one federal law that directly regulates reproductive technologies in the US.
As recent research has shown, there is an assumption that religious groups, financial interests, and a fear of divisive abortion politics prevent regulation of the complex legal, moral, and ethical problems of egg donation. I challenge conventional wisdom in my book, Between Families and Frankenstein: The Politics of Egg Donation in the United States.
Studying the US over 15 years, this book shows the important and understudied role of state politics in egg donation. Half of all states have laws about egg donation; even more states pass laws that involve donated eggs. In the first broad analysis of its kind, I demonstrate that nearly every state across the country has deliberated and engaged in diverse policymaking about egg donation.
Through policy analyses and case studies, I show that morality politics (defined as politics guided by fundamental, often religious beliefs) play a dual role with body politics (the ways that bodies and reproduction shape citizenship and the political order) in creating the unique US politics of egg donation.
Women in politics are an important part of explaining the puzzle of the politics of egg donation in the US. Although egg donation is considered to be a women’s issue, the diverse roles of women in the politics of egg donation has long been ignored. I find that Republican women are on the forefront of policymaking about egg donation in state legislatures between 1995 and 2010, introducing and co-sponsoring bills about compensating egg donors and creating formal definitions of who is a legal parent of donor-conceived children.
The last forty years since Louise Brown’s birth has expanded the possibilities, and exposed the challenges, of exciting technologies like egg donation. Thousands of children have been born through donor eggs, and people are finding new ways to define family and belonging. Egg donation technologies have led to egg freezing, which promises to allow women to delay childbearing but may not be as effective as hoped. States are proactively regulating emerging conflicts about kinship and reproductive technologies, like Arizona’s recent embryo custody law – the first of its kind in US.
We are not passive to the politics of these headline-grabbing events. My book urges readers to pay attention to the local politics around egg donation, shifting state policies towards reproductive justice for donors and consumers alike in light of deep racial, class-based, and gendered divides in access to egg donation. With the rise of women in politics in parallel to the rise in the demand for egg donation, women deserve more attention and credit for their roles as advocates and representatives. In the next forty years, the politics of egg donation will undoubtedly change, and we must be ready for it.