Reality vs. “Infertility”
This news story from The New York Times highlights in a helpful way the extent to which many people have effectively divorced themselves from the reality of the human being as a bodily entity faced with biological facts. Two same-sex couples (four women) are suing a New Jersey state commissioner over an insurance mandate about infertility coverage which they claim discriminates against them. The complaint? “It defines infertility as the inability to impregnate another person, the inability to carry a pregnancy to live birth or the inability to conceive after one or two years of unprotected sex, depending on the woman’s age.” While this definition may sound innocuous, the women in the lawsuit claim discrimination because this definition could never apply to them, and hence coverage for “infertility treatment” is inaccessible.
“Where do babies come from?” is a child’s question with a concrete, physical, objective answer. When a mom (for example) answers this question from her precocious four-year-old, she may not go into detail, but she will at the very least include a man and a woman in the answer. Indeed, babies come from a specific action requiring two persons of the opposite sex. Even with immoral procedures like in vitro fertilization (IVF), which separates the coming-to-be of a child from a couple’s intimacy, a male and female contribution is required.
Given these foundational facts, two women can’t be fertile together, no matter how much they want to “start a family,” and no matter if both of them individually are healthy and fertile. As Mat Staver, founder and chairman of the Liberty Counsel law firm said, the policy “does not discriminate against same-sex couples. These women have chosen to engage in sexual relations that cannot produce a child and now they want the insurance company to pay for their personal choices.”
Further, children are not a right; they are not owed to anyone. Pope Francis reminds us of this in Amoris Laetitia when he writes about the right children have to the love of both their mother and their father, together. “Without this, a child could become a mere plaything” (no. 172). Addressing the idea that children are one’s right, the pope says:
The choice of adoption and foster care expresses a particular kind of fruitfulness in the marriage experience, and not only in cases of infertility. In the light of those situations where a child is desired at any cost, as a right for one’s self- fulfilment, adoption and foster care, correctly understood, manifest an important aspect of parenting and the raising of children. They make people aware that children, whether natural, adoptive or taken in foster care, are persons in their own right who need to be accepted, loved and cared for, and not just brought into this world (no. 180, emphasis mine).
Children are a gift from God, meant to be received by the couple through a loving act of sexual intimacy and not demanded as a right by any means possible.
Another problematic aspect of the lawsuit is that it minimizes the real experience of infertility. The women in the lawsuit claim to understand a pain that is inaccessible to them. Two women may deeply desire a child, but at no time could they realistically have thought that they would be able to have one together (ever) or to have one without scientific intervention (for one of them). They could not wonder, each time they physically expressed their love for one another, whether this would be the moment that their child would come into existence. They could not experience a time of waiting and anticipating, only to be disappointed. For those who have actually suffered from infertility, comparing these two situations can be painful and even offensive. Further, true infertility treatment seeks to heal the underlying medical reasons for a couple’s infertility so that they are able to conceive a child together. The “treatment” described in the article does no such thing, and in fact “treats” nothing.
The article does provide a great opportunity to think about a beautiful phrase, not without its pain, that comes from the experience of many Catholic married couples: “We experience infertility.” We… Not I. This comes from a deeper understanding of fertility and infertility, given the truth of the human person and our call to marital love and the gift of self. An individual man or woman may have “working organs” and in that sense be “fertile”; but fertility (and therefore infertility) more properly belongs to a couple who is united in a procreative act of intercourse. A man or a woman cannot have a child by him- or herself because we are a sexually reproductive species. Being fertile, then, does no individual person any good unless they are united to someone of the opposite sex. Only in a marital union does fertility take on its full meaning.