So, Who’s in Charge of Human Reproduction, Anyway?

By: Katie Burch, J.D. Candidate ’14 | June 13, 2013

So, who’s in charge of human reproduction, anyway?

For decades, throngs of vigilant voices have fought to be heard in their fight for equality. Issues of bodily integrity, equality for the masses, and privacy concerns have long been waged in the political arena. But when legislation begins to dictate human reproduction, who is in control?

The United States Justice Department has recently declared that it would drop its appeal of a federal ruling rendered last April which forced the Department to make the morning-after birth control pill available over the counter with no age restrictions. The decision comes after a nearly decade-long controversy surrounding the availability of the emergency contraceptive drug Plan B One-Step. In its legal filing, the Justice Department and the Food and Drug Administration made it clear that they intend to make other forms of the drug available to teens under age 17 by prescription only.

And the fight has entered state capitals, too. During the 2013 legislative session, Arkansas embraced one of the strictest U.S. abortion laws on record. The Human Heartbeat Protection Act (also known as Act 301) requires anyone who provides abortions in Arkansas to “perform an abdominal ultrasound test necessary to detect a heartbeat of an unborn human individual according to standard medical practice.” The result? Most abortions are forbidden if a heartbeat is detected after 12 weeks of pregnancy (with exceptions provided in cases of medical emergency, rape, and other situations). The Senate voted 20-14 to overrule Democratic Gov. Mike Beebe’s veto, and the House followed suit with a vote of 56-33. It will go into effect this summer if it survives legal challenges.

But where it seems that legislation of female reproductive organs have been debated in every legal corner imaginable, rest assured that you will probably face very little red tape if you want to donate or receive human eggs. But should you? In a world where a substantial part of the fertility industry has moved online, and the people that harvest or distribute human eggs don’t have to be clinics or physicians, shouldn’t there at least be some ethical, if not legal, restrictions governing their activity?

In an article published in volume 35.1 of the University of Arkansas at Little Rock Law Review Journal, author Kitty Cone describes a world where the increased popularity of human egg harvesting lacks very little legislative or ethical regulations. The article, entitled “Egg Donation and Stem Cell Research – Eggs for Sale: The Scrambled State of Legislation in the Human Egg Market”, advocates for the protection of women from exploitation and unethical processes. In her writing, Cone renders a compelling argument for comprehensive legislation addressing the procurement of human eggs used for research and reproduction within the United States.