Commentary Sexual Health

Egg Freezing: Risks to Women and Children Unknown

Marcy Darnovsky

The fertility industry’s professional organization – the American Society of Reproductive Medicine (ASRM) – has said plainly that freezing women’s eggs remains an experimental procedure that should not be “marketed or offered as a means to defer reproductive aging.”

Originally published by the Center for Genetics & Society. Published here with permission of the author.

To its credit, the fertility industry’s professional organization – the American Society of Reproductive Medicine (ASRM) – has said plainly that freezing women’s eggs remains an experimental procedure that should not be “marketed or offered as a means to defer reproductive aging.” To its discredit, ASRM does little to see that even its own members adhere to its conclusion. (If this sounds familiar, you may be thinking of the similar disregard in which fertility clinics hold ASRM guidelines on the number of embryos they should put in women’s wombs, and on the use of embryo screening for sex selection.) 

In fact, hundreds of American fertility clinics now offer “social egg freezing,” and there are thousands of online ads promising women they can “extend their fertility” by putting their eggs on ice. This disjuncture is examined in an article in this week’s Nature titled “Growth of egg freezing blurs ‘experimental’ label” [registration required]. 

Science writer Alison Motluk points out that chemicals used in the freezing process are toxic to embryos, though no one knows how much the eggs absorb; that there have been no systematic follow-up studies either of children born from frozen eggs (fewer than 2000 worldwide) or of success rates, especially for women in their late thirties who are the primary users; and that the procedure is very expensive. She notes that several other widely used assisted reproduction techniques, including pre-implantation genetic diagnosis and injecting sperm directly into eggs, were also rushed from lab to patients with next to nothing in the way of animal studies or clinical trials. 

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Ironically, proponents of social egg freezing offer this record of untested techniques as an argument in favor of removing the procedure’s experimental label. Though the commercial throttle is already wide open, these promoters are probably right in thinking that ASRM’s designation dissuades some women, dampening the growth of what is clearly a lucrative new market for the fertility industry. In an April article in Vogue, fertility doctor Geoffrey Sher, an active and early proponent of egg freezing, says that there “is already the potential for eight times the demand for egg freezing as there is for IVF procedures, just based on population numbers.” Sher and others believe that women should be encouraged to undergo the procedure in their late 20s or early 30s, when their eggs are higher quality.

Though the tone of the recent Nature article is more sober than that of many media accounts, neither it nor the other media stories published over the past several months – the Vogue piececoverage by National Public Radio, and a first-person account on Huffington Post – even mention the non-trivial short-term risks (side effects ranging from mild to – rarely – life-threatening, with plenty of debilitating territory in between) and still uncertain long-term risks of egg retrieval for women. 

In most of the media coverage, the take-away message is that egg freezing is an unproblematic boon. NPR’s article, for example, carries the conclusive title, “Egg Freezing Puts The Biological Clock On Hold” and reports that fertility doctors “envision a time when society considers freezing eggs an act not of desperation but of empowerment.” The Vogue piece declares, “Stopping the biological clock through egg freezing has long been the ultimate feminist fantasy.”

There have indeed been, and probably still are, some feminists who fantasize thus. The most notorious is Shulamith Firestone, who back in 1970 envisioned gender equality enabled by artificial wombs. Myself, I’ll forgo the fantasy techno-fixes. Give me the kind of feminism that assesses the real-world effects of a practice like egg freezing – as do, for example, Our Bodies Ourselves and the National Women’s Health Network.

News Politics

Colorado Republicans Pick Anti-Choice County Commissioner for U.S. Senate Race

Jason Salzman

Darryl Glenn, an anti-choice Colorado Springs County Commissioner, defeated a pro-choice GOP rival and three other anti-choice Republicans in the race to take on pro-choice Sen. Michael Bennet in November.

In Colorado’s Republican senatorial primary Tuesday, Darryl Glenn, a conservative county commissioner from Colorado Springs, scored a decisive victory over Jack Graham, a former Colorado State University official, who stood out from the GOP field of five candidates for his atypical pro-choice stance.

Glenn received about 38 percent of the primary vote versus nearly 25 percent for Graham, who finished second.

Glenn made no secret of his anti-choice stance during the primary election, describing himself in interviews as an “unapologetic Christian, constitutional conservative” and supporting “personhood” rights for fertilized human eggs (zygotes), a stance that could outlaw abortion and many forms of contraception.

Consistent with this, Glenn is also opposed to the Roe v. Wade decision.

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Glenn frequently brought up his faith in interviews. For example, Glenn broke out from his Republican rivals at the GOP state convention in April, where he gave an impassioned speech during which he discussed Planned Parenthood and opposing abortion ​before delegates voted him on to the GOP primary ballot.

Asked about the speech by conservative radio host Richard Randall, Glenn said, “Well, that wasn’t me. That was the Holy Spirit coming through, just speaking the truth.”

Seriously?” replied the KVOR radio host.

Absolutely,” Glenn replied on air. “This campaign has always been about honoring and serving God and stepping up and doing the right thing.”

Political observers say Glenn’s position on abortion, coupled with his other conservative stances and his promise never to compromise, spell trouble for him in November’s general election against Democratic Sen. Michael Bennet.

“Glenn’s stance on abortion isn’t necessarily disqualifying,” Jennifer Duffy, senior editor of the Cook Political Report, which offers non-partisan election analysis, in Washington D.C., told Rewire via email. “Colorado has sent pro-life Republicans to the Senate. But, the cumulative effect of all Glenn’s conservative positions on social, economic, and foreign policy, as well as his association with Tea Party-affiliated groups and his lack of funding make it very, very difficult to see a path to victory for him.”

In the final weeks of the primary, Glenn was supported by Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) and former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin.

Glenn’s ties to the right wing of the Republican Party drew criticism during the campaign from GOP Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. He criticized Glenn for accepting the endorsement of the Senate Conservatives Fund, which gave Glenn $500,000.

Duffy doesn’t expect the race to be “very competitive,” an observation that aligns with the “Democrat favored” assessment of the race by the Rothenberg & Gonzales Political Report. Last year, Bennet was widely considered one of only two vulnerable U.S. Senate Democrats.

“Darryl Glenn’s support for ‘personhood’ puts him on the wrong side of Colorado voters’ values, including many pro-choice Republicans and unaffiliated voters,” said Karen Middleton, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Colorado, in an email to Rewire. “Support for reproductive freedom crosses party lines in Colorado, as demonstrated by the landslide losses by three ‘personhood’ ballot measures. Glenn’s chances of beating pro-choice champion Michael Bennet were already slim. This puts it closer to none.”

Glenn did not immediately return a call for comment.

In 2014, U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner (R-CO), who is anti-choice, defeated pro-choice Democratic Sen. Mark Udall, who hammered Gardner on his abortion stance throughout the campaign. 

Gardner threw his support behind Glenn Wednesday, reportedly saying to Roll Call that Glenn has fundraising challenges ahead of him but that he’s “winning when nobody expected him to.” And that, Gardner was quoted as saying, “bodes well for November.”

News Politics

U.S. Senate Candidate’s Abortion Stance Sets Him Apart From Fellow GOP Opponents in Colorado

Jason Salzman

Former Colorado State University athletics director Jack Graham is backing a “woman’s right to choose” as he competes against four self-described “pro-life” Republicans in a primary to take on pro-choice Sen. Michael Bennet (D-CO) in November’s election.

In Colorado, where Republicans like Sen. Cory Gardner (R-CO) in 2014 and GOP senatorial candidate Ken Buck in 2010 are known for taking hard-line anti-abortion stances during the Republican primary and then moderating their positions for the consumption of general-election voters, a GOP senatorial candidate this year is turning heads. The candidate, former Colorado State University athletics director Jack Graham, is backing a “woman’s right to choose” as he competes against four self-described “pro-life” Republicans in a primary to take on pro-choice Sen. Michael Bennet (D-CO) in November’s election.

Graham repeatedly states in speeches, as he does on his website, that the “government’s role in our lives should be kept to a minimum.” In keeping with this, he adds, “I support and I believe in a woman’s right to choose; and that our government does not belong in this decision.”

“I feel deeply about the right to choose, just as I do about the sanctity of life,” Graham told the Pueblo Chieftain in April.

Graham supports Roe v. Wade and praises Planned Parenthood’s ability to respond in “real time” when sexual health crises arise, like the AIDS epidemic, which he witnessed in the 1980s.

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As for details on the meaning of his abortion stance, Graham’s website states that “the government should not participate in any way in the funding of abortion procedures or abortion counseling,” and it also states that continued funding for Planned Parenthood “should be predicated upon their complete discontinuation of abortion activities.” He’s also opposed to “late-term” and “partial-birth” abortions.

Still, Graham’s position, particularly his use of pro-choice language, like “a women’s right to choose,” to describe his stance, sets him apart from his four GOP primary opponents, even making headlines like this one in the Pueblo Chieftain: “GOP Senate hopeful is pro-choice.”

The other four GOP primary candidates are anti-choice in varying degrees. Darryl Glenn, an El Paso County Commissioner who was voted onto the primary ballot by Republicans at their state convention, supports so-called personhood, according to Colorado Right to Life, meaning he believes life begins at conception, and fertilized human eggs (zygotes) should be given legal rights.

“I am an unapologetic pro-life American,” Glenn said during a recent televised debate. “I don’t agree with the decision of Roe v. Wade.”

Businessmen Robert Blaha and Ryan Frazier and former state Rep. Jon Kyser (R-Jefferson County) all say they are “pro-life.”

The question is, will Graham’s abortion stance affect his chances of victory in Tuesday’s GOP primary?

“From a purely political strategy standpoint, I’m inclined to think it will help him,” said John Sraayer, professor of political science at Colorado State University in Fort Collins, in an interview with Rewire. “He doesn’t need all the Republican voters in the primary, he just needs to get more than the other candidates.”

Straayer said Graham’s position will hurt him with more Republican primary voters than not, but in a low-turnout primary election, with votes divided among five candidates, Graham could benefit from “standing out” on reproductive rights.

“The people on the pro-life side have four choices,” Straayer told Rewire. “They can only pick one, so the pro-life vote will be fragmented.”

Straayer pointed out that Graham’s campaign benefits from being run by political consultant Dick Wadhams, a former Colorado state party chairman, who managed South Dakota Sen. John Thune’s upset victory of Democrat Tom Daschle in 2005.

Graham, who became a Republican about a year ago, did not return a call from Rewire seeking comment.

No public polling on Graham’s primary race is available, but the latest campaign finance report shows that Graham is in the lead. He has given his campaign $1.5 million and has more cash on hand than any of his opponents, with over $800,000 in the bank, as the Colorado Statesman reported. Graham’s closest GOP opponent, Blaha, has over $270,000 in cash, after loaning his campaign $1 million earlier this year.

Democratic Sen. Michael Bennet has $5.7 million in the bank, seven times as much as Graham.

In 2014, Sen. Gardner defeated pro-choice Democratic Sen. Mark Udall, in part, by claiming legislation he co-sponsored to outlaw abortion was merely symbolic, when in fact, it was not.