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U.S. Health Sec. Becerra in Farmington Hills to discuss protecting reproductive rights

Farmington Hills — U.S. Health Secretary Xavier Becerra met with Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, other state and local officials and women who relied on assisted methods to start families for a roundtable discussion on reproductive rights Thursday.

They heard from Laura Dennison, who used in-vitro fertilization to have children, and others who sought out assisted reproduction and who support the efforts in Michigan’s Legislature to expand reproductive rights. The Biden administration said it sought during the discussion to highlight what the administration has done to protect those rights.

Dennison was diagnosed with infertility early in her life and has spent a decade trying to build her family. She recalled feeling like she wasn’t supposed to talk about her IVF treatments or when she had to terminate a potentially life-threatening and unviable pregnancy.

“I’ve kind of internalized a lot of these negative messages that you hear, and it crushed me,” she said. “I had to take three months off of work because I just was so overwhelmed with emotion that I couldn’t even move forward. Somehow I pulled myself out of it and in doing that, was going to walks sponsored by Resolve, the National National Infertility Association.”

The meeting comes after the national political storm that arose in a ruling by an Alabama Supreme Court ruled that frozen embryos can be considered children under state law. IVF providers soon paused services, and the ruling touched off a backlash and worry among couples who sought to start families using IVF treatments.

Despite the setbacks in her bid to become pregnant, Dennison gave birth to her first child in 2020. In 2023, she gave birth to her daughter but lost some insurance coverage for treatment when she changed employers and paid $20,000 out-of-pocket.

IVF is a series of procedures used to treat infertility that can lead to pregnancy, according to the Mayo Clinic. The procedures involve collecting mature eggs from ovaries and fertilizing them using sperm in a lab. A procedure then places one or more fertilized eggs, or embryos, in a uterus.

The roundtable comes a week after the Michigan Senate voted to overhaul the state’s surrogacy law to provide better access to fertility health care and protect parents of children born through IVF or other methods of assisted reproduction.

Others, including state Rep. Samantha Steckloff, Oakland County Executive Dave Coulter and Michigan’s Chief Medical Executive Natasha Bagdasarian, attended the discussion at the Hawk Community Center.

Michigan’s previous law criminalized paid surrogacy, forcing parents like Stephanie Jones to temporarily move out of state to start the egg retrieval process and work with a carrier.

“Infertility does not discriminate. I tell that to everybody, it doesn’t care who you are, know what race you are. It really is a crippling disease,” said Jones, who had her second child using a surrogate after she had to terminate two life-threatening pregnancies and could no longer carry a child safely.

“We need to give access to the people who want these children. We need to give access to the people to make the decisions of when and how to start their family.”

Amber Roseboom, president of Right to Life of Michigan, called Thursday’s event “an election year charade” and said there is no threat to IVF in Michigan.

“IVF has been operating in Michigan since the ’70s. There is no threat to it, nor has there been,” Roseboom said. “And there is absolutely no parallel in Michigan to Alabama’s recent, isolated issue. Not one. Prenatal care also has never been at risk in Michigan. Abortion is now secured in more than a dozen places in state law, beyond Proposal 3 now in our state constitution.”

Whitmer said every decision by a judge to take away a woman’s ability to access health care has consequences.

“Whether it is the most recent argument of our United States Supreme Court or an Alabama judge or a Texas judge — every effort to take away a woman’s ability to access health care, has ripples that people can’t even imagine,” Whitmer said.

Reproductive rights are at the fore in the 2024 election cycle, even in Michigan, which has enshrined the right to an abortion in the state constitution and repealed a centuries-old abortion ban, she said.

“If there was a president who says they’re going to sign an abortion ban and one gets to their desk, everything we’ve done in Michigan goes away,” Whitmer said. “That’s real, and it’s scary.”

It’s important for politicians to hear parents’ stories and protect access to health care, Becerra said. The Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade in 2022 affects more than just abortion, he said.

“There should be no reason why politicians should have to have any involvement in a decision. So long as it’s safe and effective, the decision is that woman’s with her health professional,” Becerra said. “We have a long way to go before we get there, but we should strive (to do so) because there are people who don’t even have access to the reproductive services that in Michigan women can have.”

Protections for women, parents and children are what’s at stake in Michigan, Roseboom said, referencing the Reproductive Health Act signed by Whitmer last fall that repealed several regulations for abortion.

“Abortion-extremist Democrats have announced their intention to remove parental consent for a minor seeking an abortion and strip a woman’s right to know about the risks associated with abortion by removing informed consent,” Roseboom said.

A report released Thursday by the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan, the Michigan Organization on Adolescent Sexual Health and the Human Rights Watch urged the state to repeal the law on parental consent for abortions. Whitmer indicated that she would have supported repealing if it was sent to her desk.

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