"We Just Want to Be Parents"
Tennessee Republican says IVF docs can be prosecuted under abortion ban
Sara Chambers wants to be a mom. But about a year ago, doctors told Sara and her husband that the only way they’d be able to conceive was through IVF. The 25 year-old had started to prepare for the process when Roe was overturned.
Sara lives in Tennessee, and the state’s total abortion ban had her scared. She heard people talking about the ban potentially impacting IVF and fertility treatments, so she read through the ‘Human Life Protection Act’. Sara says something stuck out to her immediately: The law said that life begins at fertilization, not implantation in the uterus.
During IVF, dozens of eggs are retrieved, and most are fertilized— sometimes up to 20 embryos are created during the process. The quality of those embryos will vary—some will have chromosomal abnormalities or be unlikely to implant or grow—and so just a few are generally transferred to a patient’s uterus. Those embryos considered viable may be kept frozen, but many are discarded.
Sara’s doctors told her not to worry about the language of the law, that they planned on doing business as usual. “But I am worried about it!,” she told me.
To be certain, she emailed her state representative, Rep. Ryan Williams. Over email, Sara asked how the law would impact her IVF treatment:
“Can I discard my embryos and it not be considered an abortion? After reading the Human Life Protection Act, I realized it stated that ‘life’ begins at the moment of conception and not implantation. So, are the embryos considered ‘life’ during IVF?”
Rep. Williams responded that “life does begin at conception either in the womb or in the IVF clinic,” and that any doctor who discarded unused embryos would be violating state law. (Tennessee’s ban made abortion a felony punishable by up to 15 years in prison.) Williams also included this dig:
“I admit it is an unusual question for someone who struggled to have children and wants children to ask the question ‘can I discard my embryos’ but I hope this answers your questions.”
“My heart sank,” Sara said. After getting the email, she made a TikTok about her experience; as of today it has just under 800,000 views. And while she was happy to be getting the word out—she says she wanted to raise awareness—Sara still didn’t have an answer to her questions. “We just want to be parents!”
So Sara contacted Rep. Williams again, this time over the phone. Because of her video, Williams was getting dozens of phone calls—he asked her how he should respond to them. Needless to say, Sara didn’t get the clarity on the law she was looking for.
“I kept feeling like he was injecting his personal beliefs,” she said. Williams told her a story about a couple he knows that went through IVF and implanted embryos the doctor said were nonviable; he told her they went on to have healthy children.
“I’m not going to implant 20 embryos!,” Sara told me.
During the call, Williams also doubled down on his assertion that the law makes discarding embryos illegal—he told Sara it would ultimately be up to local prosecutors whether or not to pursue criminal charges. Sara’s clinic is in Nashville, where the district attorney said he wouldn’t prosecute abortion cases—but Sara knows that the state attorney general can appoint special prosecutors if local DAs refuse to enforce certain laws.
Sara told me she thought seriously about leaving Tennessee, the place where she was born and raised—but that the state needs more people who are willing to stay and fight. And while she and her husband still plan to move forward with IVF, she wants her questions answered and she wants people in Tennessee to understand what the state’s abortion ban really does: “It’s hard for people to fathom that this is actually happening. This is real, and it’s happening right now.”
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