The Little Fertility Clinic That Could… and Almost Didn’t

And now, a simple tale of one doctor’s attempt to build a fertility clinic, nearly thwarted by politics this week.

Naperville, Illinois

Naperville, Illinois via Google Maps.

Naperville, Illinois is a suburb about 45 minutes west of Chicago and is home to just over 140,000 people. The median age of Naperville residents sits right around 34 years old. It’s a largely white community, with its next largest population being Asian, only about 13%. Unemployment is a little lower here in Naperville compared to the rest of Illinois. It’s a town with fairly low crime compared to the US average for crime rates.

Naperville is, by all accounts, just another suburb in the middle of America: just outside a major metropolis and home to a small liberal arts college with about 2,000 students on campus.

It is here that Dr. Randy Morris, an award-winning board-certified Reproductive Endocrinologist, seeks to build a fertility clinic.

It’s here in Naperville that Dr. Morris wants to build families.

If only it were that simple.

. . .

It wasn’t the use of the land, or even parking regulations that held up Dr. Morris. His plans were on the up and up with the zoning board. In February, the Naperville Planning and Zoning Commission gave him the green light on zoning. Oddly enough, it wasn’t all the technical logistics and specs that go into getting any new brick and mortar facility approved.

It was what Dr. Morris was planning to do in those walls that had some residents concerned.

. . .

From the layperson’s view, a fertility clinic is going to offer some basic services, many of which you or I have used at some point.

We get bloodwork done, so there might be a collection lab on site. Some clinics can do surgical procedures on site, like that hysteroscopy I keep putting off. There’s the standard waiting room and reception desk area. Consultation rooms. Those damn stirrups. *shudder*

We get IUIs performed and collect semen samples and have pelvic exams. And if the clinic is advanced enough, maybe they’re even retrieving, storing, freezing and thawing embryos on site.

To be honest, it’s nothing short of miracles that go on in the walls of most fertility clinics. It’s where science and faith – that is, faith in the science – come together in this amazing technological dance to actually help infertile couples conceive.

Pause on that for a minute. It’s pretty damn profound.

. . .

Here’s where it gets ridiculous.

All Dr. Morris needed was the approval from Naperville’s City Council. An easy hurdle, presumably. He had all the zoning and other paperwork and approvals in order. It should have been a hit right outta the park.

That is, until folks with a personhood agenda showed up to the City Council meeting.

They argued that the disposition or destruction of embryos constituted a moral issue that the City Council should consider. They were honestly pulling the “won’t someone think of the children?!” card… and they meant it in reference to the embryos on site at Dr. Morris’s proposed clinic. Those who opposed the clinic also thought that it would take advantage of the local college by recruiting egg donors.

This got some members of the City Council concerned then, about the possibility of protesters congregating outside the facility.

Picture this for a minute.

Pro-life personhood protesters. Outside of a fertility clinic. That’s trying to build families.

…seriously?

It’s one thing to live in a day and age where Roe v. Wade is still legal last time I checked and have pro-life (anti-choice) protestors in front of your local Planned Parenthood. I get that. That is logical. It might be right or appropriate, but score 1 for pro-lifers when it comes to logic.

This, on the other hand, makes no fucking sense. Pro-life protesters outside of your local fertility clinic? You’ve got to be kidding me.

“Because one small and noisy group has a religious view that IVF is immoral and sinful, they take issue with the fact that this sinful place would be located several blocks away from churches, schools and children’s museums,” Dr. Morris said to reporters.

But I’m not kidding and this was a real and valid concern for the Naperville City Council.

Public commentary on both sides of the issue ramped up, with former infertility patients coming out in droves to support Dr. Morris while personhood supports set their sites on Dr. Morris’s clinic.

. . .

Tuesday night, Dr. Morris’s proposed clinic went up for a vote before the City Council. There was much heated public testimony both in support of and opposing this clinic.

In the end, the City Council voted 7-2 in favor of the Naperville Family Building Center.

Not the Naperville Fertility Center, as originally planned. The name change was a compromise to appease those most opposed to all that heathen-y science happening in their own backyard.

. . .

Naperville could be any town like yours or mine.

And yet, this is the kind of climate we’ve come to, folks. One where we can’t even get a state-of-the-art fertility clinic built in our own towns because “won’t someone think of the children?!” – the embryos, that is.

Cryopreservation is nothing short of an art. The decision on what to do with excess embryos is deeply personal and unique to each couple. The work that is done by fertility doctors, nurses and their staff is at once humbling and astounding.

All of this care and craft and love that goes into starting your family, when combined with the amazingness of fertility science – it really is nothing short of a miracle.

And the folks who support personhood don’t like it one bit.

. . .

Dr. Morris’s Naperville Family Building Center is a cautionary tale not just for infertility professionals, but for each and every one of us as patients.

There are those who believe on very political grounds that we don’t actually have the right to build our own families, even though they support “choosing life.”

Folks, we need to wake up and start fighting back for our rights to be parents.

Because at the end of the day, no matter how we get there, that’s all we’re trying to do is to become parents, right?

If the personhood movement had it their way, we wouldn’t.

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Comments

  1. says

    Great blog, Keiko. The Naperville protests reminded me that about ten years ago a small group of anti-abortion protestors gathered outside the entrance of the office park where the clinic I was working at the time had their facilities. The protest was on a Saturday morning and turned out to be nothing more than one or two fanatics holding signs. Back then, it seemed so strange that these pro-lifers would protest a medial practice that was creating life. Surely, they were mistaken! Did they erronesouly think we were performing abortions? It seemed so bizarre. But that was a different time and a vastly different political atmosphere. The protest occurred once and the protestors disappeared, never to be heard from again in liberal Massachusetts.

    Fast forward ten years and the Naperville protestors know exactly what they are doing and now they have the implicit support of a significant segment of one of the major political parties — even though that party’s chair declared today there is no war on women. The Personhood Movement has tried unsuccessfully to pass legislation declaring embryos people so now they have opened up another front in their drive to overturn Roe V Wade. They are trying to rewrite public perception so that infertility clinics are thought of as places of death where embryos are destroyed rather than medical facilities where the miracle of science and love helps to create families.

    Imagine this scenario. First, they protest the establishment of a clinic. That does not work. Then they’ll start protesting the existence of the clinic, disrupting business for the clinic’s next door neighbors and, perhaps, making patients afraid to come to their appointments. How long will it take before there are death threats against the doctors or embryologists for what they perceive to be “crimes against embryos”? How long will it take before the public perception of infertility is soured one clinic at a time because of all the “noise” and misconceptions perpetrated by the protestors? This could make the infertility field seem more controversial and potentially sway voters to favor personhood or other types of restrictions on infertility treatment the next time these issues are on the ballot.

    This is scary stuff. We can’t let them succeed. You must vote thoughtfully and ask candidates where they stand on these issues. There will be a chilling effect — how many doctors publicly perform abortions? Everyone’s access to building a family will suffer.

  2. says

    It is just unreal that these things are happening, now, in this country or anywhere. Thank you, Keiko, for writing about this.

  3. says

    As always, I love your take on the issue and of course agree wholeheartedly with you. All of the personhood agenda sickens me. Like you said, it is the irony of all ironies, especially as it pertains to the clinic in Naperville. I’m so glad that the council had good sense (most of them, anyway).

  4. Nancy says

    I am so impressed with the comprehensiveness of your site, your passion for the topic, and your ability to capture an emotionally-charged issue in a thorough, informative, and sensitive manner. Thanks so much!

  5. says

    This is truly disturbing, and should be a big wake-up call to the entire fertility community. Scary.

    Thank you for keeping us informed, as always.

  6. Michelle says

    I am Christian. I am passionately pro-life. I oppose abortion in every situation. I support personhood. I believe that life begins at conception, whether conception occurs in the privacy of the bedroom or in a sterile test tube. I believe that “embryo” is another word for “baby”.

    I am also infertile.

    I have been through 6 IUI’s, 2 IVFs, and many other cycles using Assisted Reproductive Techniques. (ART’s).

    I support fertility clinics. I respect the science and the treatments that they bring to women like me. It disappoints me that the folks on the Naperville City Council would have to give a second thought to whether a fertility clinic would be an asset to their town.

    I agree with much of your blog post, but next time, try not to lump all pro-lifers into the same group. Not everyone who opposes Roe v. Wade is ignorant.

    • Keiko says

      Michelle, I wanted to thank you for your very honest, candid comment. I fully own that I have a very liberal bias on this blog and so I know it can be hard for people to speak up and buck against that. So, thanks for being the brave one :)

      You raise a very valid point- that yes, there are pro-life people who are also infertile. I’d also like to clarify my own stance on abortion, b/c I don’t know that I’ve ever done that here. I’m pro-choice/pro-family, meaning, that if G-d forbid I had to make that choice, I probably wouldn’t have an abortion. But at the end of the day, I’d rather have the choice to have that procedure than not have any say in it at all. I know you disagree with that viewpoint and I respect that- I do.

      The challenge of the personhood movement, as I’ve raised in other posts (I’ll link at the bottom of this comment to specifics) is that personhood legislation threatens treatment for all of us. It’s not just about blocking potentially new clinics in your neighborhood – we’re talking about shutting down clinics that already exist. When the destruction of embryos becomes synonymous with a criminal act, clinics have no legal foothold to stand on. It’s a liability for them to remain in practice because they would have no legal recourse.

      I don’t necessarily think that all pro-lifers are ignorant. Have I met some, IRL? Yes. Super frustrating and kind of sad, actually. But if anything, the Naperville incident demonstrates just how NOT ignorant the personhood movement is – their tactics and strategies have become increasingly finely-tuned. On a strategic level to advance their agenda? It’s effin’ brilliant.

      And the end of the day, this shouldn’t be about politics or religion. At the end of the day, we just want to be moms, right? I can accept and respect your religious and political beliefs, and I do. I genuinely mean that. What I try to do here at this space is inform everyone – regardless of those beliefs – about anything that could potentially damage or destroy our community’s ability to receive access to the care we need. Anything that could be a barrier to our dreams of parenthood, I want to make sure folks are in the know about it and to take action on their parts, if they so choose.

      I talk a little bit more about why politics/religion shouldn’t play into the personhood debate if you’re infertile more at this post: http://theinfertilityvoice.com/2011/11/mississippi-initiative-26-threatens-infertility-treatment-for-all/

      I also get into it a little bit more here, but this is a pretty snarky post, so be forewarned: http://theinfertilityvoice.com/2012/02/sperm-and-the-art-of-personhood/

      I know we’re not going to change each others’ beliefs, but I thank you for sharing yours and adding to the discourse all the same. As a community, we need to be talking about this no matter where your beliefs lie.