Politics & Policy

Chicks Protect Their Eggs

Cloning is a women's issue.

“Wow. I never really thought about that.”

#ad#That’s the response Jennifer Lahl says she gets “over and over again” when she talks to people about “the women’s health and safety” concerns at the heart of the debate over embryonic-stem-cell research and cloning.

Lahl is a spokeswoman for a nonpartisan group with an international reach called “Hands Off Our Ovaries,” which seeks “a moratorium on egg extraction for research purposes until such time as global discourse and scientific research yields information sufficient to establish adequate informed consent.” 

The organization was launched earlier this year on International Women’s Day in March as “a 2006 version of bra burning,” Lahl jokes. The movement is deadly serious, though: She hopes that the Hands Off Our Ovaries message — uniting pro-life and pro-choice women, conservatives and liberal feminists — can serve as a wake-up call to folks who have just never thought through the hows of such complicated and controversial research. Obviously, Lahl says, people know you don’t get the necessary eggs for cloning embryos from a basket. But unless they’ve had extensive experience with infertility issues (and egg “donation”), most busy Americans will have this issue completely off their radars.

Already routine at fertility clinics, egg donation is an unpleasant process that includes prodding and surgery; “donors” (sometimes highly paid) are given hormones to ensure they produce more than the routine monthly amount of eggs — more means a better shot at success. This largely unregulated industry (an estimated $38 million one) has paid little attention to the potential long-term harm from such hyperstimulation. As two bioethicists from Stanford declared last year in an article in Science magazine, at a minimum women should be made aware both that the risks include infertility and even death and that their “donations,” in the case of embryonic-stem-cell research and cloning, may never actually contribute to a cure for anything.

The Hands Off Our Ovaries cautionary message and call for a moratorium on hyperstimulated cloning research may have the opportunity to be heard like never before in the run-up to Election Day. In response to a dramatic plea by Parkinson’s sufferer Michael J. Fox for Missourians to vote against Republican Jim Talent because of his opposition to cloning (my c-word, not Fox’s; the gist of Fox’s disingenuous commercial for Democrat Claire McCaskill is, essentially, that Talent is a mean man who doesn’t like sick people, or at least doesn’t want them to get well), a counter ad is scheduled to air Wednesday night in Saint Louis during game four of the World Series. This ad may be the first time many Missourians hear of the egg factor in the embryonic-stem-cell-research debate.

A ballot initiative is the reason for the ad wars. Amendment 2 would write a constitutional right to human cloning into the state constitution, putting the complicated issue above the reach of the elected legislature.

The anti-Amendment 2 ad is a good, celeb-filled response to Michael J. Fox’s platitudinous and dishonest pull at the heartstrings. It features Jim Caveziel (from The Passion of the Christ), Cardinals pitcher Jeff Suppan, and others. And proclaiming the Hands Off Our Ovaries kind of message is Patricia Heaton, best known for playing Ray Romano’s wife on Everybody Loves Raymond. During the minute-long commercial, Heaton (who, as a spokeswoman for Feminists for Life, is no stranger to such activism) says:

Amendment 2 actually makes it a constitutional right for fertility clinics to pay women for eggs. Low-income women will be seduced by big checks and extracting donor eggs is an extremely complicated, dangerous, and painful procedure.

Jennifer Lahl is hopeful, for both the short and the long term. Speaking to National Review Online from Oakland, Calif. on Tuesday night, she noted that she’s a veteran of cloning-initiative fights, having seen one pass in 2004 in California — but asserted that this time, she seems something different happening: “I really think that the egg issue is going to make a difference.” Back during the Golden State Proposition 71 campaign, cloning proponents “could get away with a Michael J. Fox ad.” This time, though, there is another side ready — one offering a coordinated message, and a reasonable, alternative sober message to counter the usual unsubstantiated hype.

– Kathryn Jean Lopez is the editor of National Review Online.

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