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The Battle over Sperm

Newsweek,  Sept 16, 2010
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Over the summer, two movies that both used sperm donors as plot devices sent the conservative “commentariat” into a conniption. After Jennifer Aniston, who plays a woman who uses a sperm donor to become pregnant in The Switch, advocated for a broad definition of family (“Love is love, and family is what is around you and who is in your immediate sphere”), Bill O’Reilly took to the airwaves to blast her attitude as “destructive to society.” And The Kids Are All Right (an indie confection about a lesbian couple, played by Annette Bening and Julianne Moore, raising two kids conceived with an anonymous sperm donor) drew the venom of New York Post columnist Andrea Peyser, who dubbed it a “Hollywood … end run around morality.”

But behind the heated rhetoric, a much more serious campaign is underway. The opening salvo on this latest front in the culture wars came in May when a study, “My Daddy’s Name Is Donor,” found that donor offspring are more likely to “struggle with serious, negative outcomes such as delinquency, substance abuse, and depression,” and “experience profound struggles with their origins and identities.” The study, funded by the Institute for American Values, offered a prescription: laws requiring sperm donors to reveal their identities to their offspring.

While that may seem wholly rational, dig a little deeper, and it’s clear there’s a broader agenda at work. The Institute for American Values has for the last 23 years sought to guard heterosexual marriages from the threats of homosexuality—and for lesbians looking to start a family, sperm donation is often involved. The IAV, though, does not stop there. “When we’re talking about sperm donation, I have real concerns about anybody using it,” says Elizabeth Marquardt, the vice president of family studies at IAV and a coauthor of the study. “If a married heterosexual couple came to me and said, ‘We’re thinking about this,’ I’d say I’m opposed. But definitely, the single-mom-by-choice offspring, based on our data, are hurting the most.” She adds: “It’s just a high-risk strategy, emotionally or otherwise, for creating a baby.”

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