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Leave Fertility Issues to Families

by Heather Hedrick Teilhet,  Atlanta Journal Constitution,  Mar 19, 2009

I am a mom. I’m proud to say that. It was a hard road to get here.

My husband and I, like thousands of other Georgians, achieved our dream of having a family thanks to fertility treatment. I can hear my 1-year old twin daughters babble to each other in their cribs as they wake up from a nap. Hearing those sounds now is worth every dime of our savings, every painful procedure, the twice daily injections, and month after month of heart-aching disappointment over our two years of treatment.

I’m also a conservative. I spent years arguing conservative principles as a spokesperson for law enforcement and Republicans in Georgia, including a stint as Gov. Sonny Perdue’s spokeswoman. We fought for greater personal accountability, less waste in government and strengthening Georgia families. I’m for the death penalty, the right to bear arms and limited government.

But Georgia Senate Republicans lost me this year. And they might have lost thousands of conservative, family-oriented moms like me across Georgia.

Early versions of Senate Bill 169, “The Ethical Treatment of Human Embryos Act,” had me fuming. Sen. Ralph Hudgens (R-Hull) saw a golden opportunity to tap into public outrage over the scandalous and reprehensible actions of “Octo-Mom” Nadya Suleman who achieved her 14 children through in-vitro fertilization.

Hudgens sponsored a proposal that would stipulate the number of embryos a fertility clinic can implant in a patient. He thought it was a good idea for Georgia politicians to determine the number of embryos that a couple and their doctor can use to try to have a child.

But he wasn’t done quite yet. He also tried to take away the decision of what to do with frozen embryos from the couple that made them. All of these provisions would make it less likely that a couple facing fertility challenges could get pregnant, and set reproductive medicine in Georgia back decades.

With all due respect, does Hudgens, an “investor” with an agriculture degree, have the expertise to make decisions about my reproductive medical treatment? Is he more qualified than my doctor at Emory, who studied reproductive endocrinology for two-and-a-half decades?

And my good friend with triplets, does this make one of her three girls illegal? And to take it one step further, if my husband and I choose to try to add to our family, should I seek guidance or permission from SB 169’s sponsors or some other state bureaucrat on our methodology first?

Senate Republicans are barreling down a slippery slope as they seek to enter Georgians’ most private matters and legislate decisions on how to have a family. Those decisions should be between me, my husband and our doctor.

And the shame of it all is that while pandering to a few in the furthest of the right, they alienate those of us in the mainstream of the right. According to Resolve: The National Infertility Association, more than 100,000 Georgians called and wrote to express outrage and opposition to SB 169. These are the suburban moms and dads in their 30s and 40s who live on your street, who’ve waited to start their families until they’ve established their careers, and then learn they have medical challenges that make pregnancy difficult. They’ve saved the money to afford expensive fertility treatment that insurance companies won’t touch. They obviously have strong family values.

With SB 169, legislative supporters basically told these couples that if they don’t make their dream come true with two embryos, well, sorry. Too bad. You can shell out another $15 grand to try again, or maybe you should just get another dog.

For now, the Senate has revised SB 169, turning it into a stem cell research matter rather than fertility treatment. But I have a feeling this issue isn’t going away. As long as the General Assembly feels the need to pander for an A-plus scorecard from the far right, we’re likely to see more ridiculous legislation affecting people like us, who just wanted to have a family.

From personal experience I can testify that going through fertility treatment is gut wrenching enough, without the opinions and judgment of my 236 friends in the Legislature.

• Heather Hedrick Teilhet, now a stay-at-home mom, is married to state Rep. Rob Teilhet (D-Smyrna).

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