Assembly Bill 2531 is working its way through the Legislature and would expand the market in women’s egg donations and would allow researchers to provide financial incentive payments to women providing eggs for research. The bill would overturn California safeguards for women who undergo a serious medical procedure for egg extraction by repealing a law I wrote in 2006.
As a former state senator, I chaired the Senate Health Committee and authored laws that promoted biomedical, stem cell and cancer research while ensuring that women’s health was not compromised in the process.
Legislators may mistakenly assume that AB 2531 has universal support of women’s health advocates. They would be wrong.
A number of state and national women’s health and reproductive justice organizations, and other public interest groups, are opposing AB 2531 based on well-established concerns in the bioethics and reproductive health communities. The range of opposition includes the Alliance for Humane Biotechnology, Black Women for Wellness, Black Women’s Health Imperative, Breast Cancer Action, and Center for Genetics and Society, Forward Together, Friends of the Earth, National Women’s Health Network, Our Bodies Ourselves, Pro-Choice Alliance for Responsible Research, and We Are Egg Donors.
Like these organizations, I oppose AB 2531 on a number of grounds: First, we have very limited information on the long-term health effects of the egg retrieval process. Second, women who undergo egg retrieval are not research subjects in the traditional sense, as proponents assert. Finally, paying for women’s eggs for research purposes contradicts well-established national recommendations and state policy.
In 2006, I stood alongside women’s health and reproductive rights and justice advocates to call for more studies on the long-term health outcomes for women undergoing egg retrieval. We know that the short-term health risks to women are fairly common and can be significant – they include serious side effects that can require hospitalization, and that occasionally are fatal. But we don’t have good data on how many women are affected. As for long-term risks, it is widely recognized that they are seriously understudied.
We cannot ignore the many reports of harm to women who provide eggs in the fertility context. The research has advanced very little in the last 10 years, reinforcing the need for more data before expanding the market in eggs. The absence of data should be a call for caution, not a rationale to support inducements for medical procedures that carry risks.
This is not an issue of equity with other research subjects. Women providing eggs for research are not comparable to research subjects in clinical trials. Their role is providing raw materials for pre-clinical research, rather than participating as subjects in medical research. And they are not afforded the safeguards or follow-up of subjects in clinical trials.
Finally, AB 2531 conflicts with national recommendations and with policies in our state constitution. The 2010 guidelines of the National Academy of Science recommend that no payments beyond reimbursement for expenses be made for donating eggs for research. Provisions of the ballot measure that established and publicly funded the state’s stem cell agency, the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine, now in California’s Constitution, also prohibit compensating women for their eggs beyond reimbursement for expenses.
The bill that I authored in 2006 was approved nearly unanimously in the Senate and Assembly. Ten years later, the concerns about the health of women undergoing the procedure remain and little research has been done to alleviate the concerns. Let’s not repeal a law that safeguards the health of women. We can support biomedical research without putting women’s health at risk.
Deborah Ortiz is a former state senator who represented District 6. Contact her at email@example.com.