I was always the listener and never the freezer.
Chicago’s winter mornings are kind to no one, but the cold is especially harsh while waiting outside in a 2010 Honda Civic. I watched as a nurse escorted my friend through the glass doors of a fertility clinic and toward my car. “I did it!” she exclaimed, as she lowered her body into the passenger seat. Hours before, I had pulled up to the entrance of the clinic to drop her off for her egg freezing procedure.
As the seasons changed and the weather turned warmer, the topic of freezing eggs came up again while another friend grilled me about my love life over a round of margaritas. I had to admit I hadn’t been on any interesting dates or found anyone who wanted to be in a serious relationship. I’d been too busy anyway, with on-call stints of over 24 hours and at times even sleeping at the hospital. My friend had scraped together enough time to make a successful Tinder match, but so far I hadn’t been that lucky. “You should definitely consider freezing your eggs,” she said. “It really seems to take the stress off of dating.”
I knew I could never settle for a relationship just to have children before my biological timer ran down, so I stopped just listening. Started moving. And entered the reality that egg freezing and in vitro fertilization are still taboo for a lot of reasons, not the least of which is that they are now under attack in the recently intensified abortion controversy.
The abortion bans enveloping more and more states may also affect IVF decisions, mine included; I may not have complete control over the destiny of my future embryos when I decide to have children—or not have children. If, during the IVF process, I decided at some point that my family was complete, I may not be able to discard my unused embryos, if there were any. I may be forced to donate them to other people or to keep having babies, which creates health risks and other complications with each additional pregnancy.
As a physician, I’ve always known that the ability to access all types of birth control is essential to providing good healthcare, but that was the extent of my personal connection to the abortion debate. It never involved me — until the Supreme Court’s recent Dobbs v. Jackson decision, which ruled that the US Constitution doesn’t grant a right to abortion, wrapped me into it.
Living in Chicago then and now in Boston, I’ve had access to an abortion if I wanted or needed one; Illinois and Massachusetts protect that right. But every year, thousands of medical providers move to rural areas and red states to provide care to marginalized patient populations. My job could take me to a state that has effectively banned these procedures — and in so doing, my future family.
And if I land in such a place, the only way these laws won’t affect me is if lawmakers decide my embryos will count only after they are transferred to my uterus and not before. Alabama Republican state Senator Clyde Chambliss once said, “The egg in the lab doesn’t apply. It’s not in a woman. She’s not pregnant.” In saying that, he provided perhaps the boldest admission that overturning Roe v. Wade is about controlling women, not protecting unborn babies.
I’m far from alone in having these concerns. Dr. Tia Jackson-Bey, a gynecologist and fertility specialist at Reproductive Medicine Associates of New York, says that many of her patients worry about what will happen to their future embryos and to themselves if they become pregnant. The big question for IVF in the Dobbs debate is whether embryos have a right to personhood; this determines options for these embryos in the future, whether they can be discarded if unwanted or chromosomally abnormal, and options for storage and use.
Approximately 12 percent of women who have abortions do so for medical reasons. A woman who becomes pregnant but has an ectopic pregnancy, miscarriage, or otherwise abnormal pregnancy, may need to terminate the pregnancy to protect her health. Even women not at high risk who miscarry for natural causes may need a procedure that has become outlawed in some states. Because of these reasons, abortion has long been a normal extension of care for women. Not anymore.
Many patients from states that have restricted abortion access are calling Dr. Jackson-Bey’s office to ask if they can freeze embryos at her New York City clinic. She advises women who live in restricted states and are undergoing IVF to take a proactive approach — identify the states nearest to them that protect the right to abortion, understand the resources available there, and know what benefits their employers offer to support those seeking abortion care.
A lot happens when you go from listening to living. You realize that you probably weren’t listening closely enough. Intellectually, I knew what reproductive control was before I pulled up outside the fertility clinic to help my friend, and before I pulled out all the stops to ensure I could have the family I always envisioned. I’m not pregnant and I don’t have a plan to conceive any time soon. I’m just an egg freezer now, yet I’m in the middle of the abortion fight like so many other women, struggling to find legal abortion care.
I can’t think of any woman I know who hasn’t somehow felt caught in this political maelstrom. While I hope that my future pregnancies are intentional and desired, I’m still at a heightened risk of the government intruding on my womb, all because I’m a freezer now.
Dr. Adjoa Anyane-Yeboa is a gastroenterologist at Massachusetts General Hospital. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.