Steven Waldman

Steven Waldman

Does In Vitro Fertilization = Abortion?

Roughly 127,977, babies are killed each year through the process of in vitro fertilization — at least if one accepts the definition that discarding a fertilized embryo amounts to abortion and murder.
Pro-choice groups obviously don’t see it that way. More interesting, pro life groups do see it that way but rarely discuss in vitro fertilization either, perhaps because it’s a popular technique.
But a recent statement from the Vatican makes it clear that the Holy See views embryos discarded during in vitro as being abortions.
The document — Instruction Dignitatis Personae on Certain Bioethical Questions — refers to embryos disgarded during the in vitro process as abortions.
Responding to the argument that in vitro isn’t as bad because it involves incidental murder as a side effect, rather than as the main goal, the document states, “in many cases the abandonment, destruction and loss of embryos are foreseen and willed.”
Referring to the practice of creating multiple embryos to increase the odds of one leading to a birth, the document declared:


“One is struck by the fact that, in any other area of medicine, ordinary professional ethics and the healthcare authorities themselves would never allow a medical procedure which involved such a high number of failures and fatalities. In fact, techniques of in vitro fertilization are accepted based on the presupposition that the individual embryo is not deserving of full respect in the presence of the competing desire for offspring which must be satisfied.”

The full statement on In Vitro:

In vitro fertilization and the deliberate destruction of embryos
14. The fact that the process of in vitro fertilization very frequently involves the deliberate destruction of embryos was already noted in the Instruction Donum vitae.
There were some who maintained that this was due to techniques which were still somewhat imperfect. Subsequent experience has shown, however, that all techniques of in vitro fertilization proceed as if the human embryo were simply a mass of cells to be used, selected and discarded.


It is true that approximately a third of women who have recourse to artificial procreation succeed in having a baby. It should be recognized, however, that given the proportion between the total number of embryos produced and those eventually born, the number of embryos sacrificed is extremely high. These losses are accepted by the practitioners of in vitro fertilization as the price to be paid for positive results. In reality, it is deeply disturbing that research in this area aims principally at obtaining better results in terms of the percentage of babies born to women who begin the process, but does not manifest a concrete interest in the right to life of each individual embryo.
15. It is often objected that the loss of embryos is, in the majority of cases, unintentional or that it happens truly against the will of the parents and physicians. They say that it is a question of risks which are not all that different from those in natural procreation; to seek to generate new life without running any risks would in practice mean doing nothing to transmit it. It is true that not all the losses of embryos in the process of in vitro fertilization have the same relationship to the will of those involved in the procedure. But it is also true that in many cases the abandonment, destruction and loss of embryos are foreseen and willed.
Embryos produced in vitro which have defects are directly discarded. Cases are becoming ever more prevalent in which couples who have no fertility problems are using artificial means of procreation in order to engage in genetic selection of their offspring. In many countries, it is now common to stimulate ovulation so as to obtain a large number of oocytes which are then fertilized. Of these, some are transferred into the woman’s uterus, while the others are frozen for future use. The reason for multiple transfer is to increase the probability that at least one embryo will implant in the uterus. In this technique, therefore, the number of embryos transferred is greater than the single child desired, in the expectation that some embryos will be lost and multiple pregnancy may not occur. In this way, the practice of multiple embryo transfer implies a purely utilitarian treatment of embryos. One is struck by the fact that, in any other area of medicine, ordinary professional ethics and the healthcare authorities themselves would never allow a medical procedure which involved such a high number of failures and fatalities. In fact, techniques of in vitro fertilization are accepted based on the presupposition that the individual embryo is not deserving of full respect in the presence of the competing desire for offspring which must be satisfied.
This sad reality, which often goes unmentioned, is truly deplorable: the “various techniques of artificial reproduction, which would seem to be at the service of life and which are frequently used with this intention, actually open the door to new threats against life”.
16. The Church moreover holds that it is ethically unacceptable to dissociate procreation from the integrally personal context of the conjugal act: human procreation is a personal act of a husband and wife, which is not capable of substitution. The blithe acceptance of the enormous number of abortions involved in the process of in vitro fertilization vividly illustrates how the replacement of the conjugal act by a technical procedure – in addition to being in contradiction with the respect that is due to procreation as something that cannot be reduced to mere reproduction – leads to a weakening of the respect owed to every human being. Recognition of such respect is, on the other hand, promoted by the intimacy of husband and wife nourished by married love.
The Church recognizes the legitimacy of the desire for a child and understands the suffering of couples struggling with problems of fertility. Such a desire, however, should not override the dignity of every human life to the point of absolute supremacy. The desire for a child cannot justify the “production” of offspring, just as the desire not to have a child cannot justify the abandonment or destruction of a child once he or she has been conceived.
In reality, it seems that some researchers, lacking any ethical point of reference and aware of the possibilities inherent in technological progress, surrender to the logic of purely subjective desires and to economic pressures which are so strong in this area. In the face of this manipulation of the human being in his or her embryonic state, it needs to be repeated that “God’s love does not differentiate between the newly conceived infant still in his or her mother’s womb and the child or young person, or the adult and the elderly person. God does not distinguish between them because he sees an impression of his own image and likeness (Gen 1:26) in each one… Therefore, the Magisterium of the Church has constantly proclaimed the sacred and inviolable character of every human life from its conception until its natural end”.

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posted January 2, 2009 at 2:05 pm

I think the Vatican is a bit behind the times when it comes to IVF. Fertility specialists are much more responsible now when it comes to the number of embryos created than they were previously – partially because of increased success rates in creating sustainable embryos.
The Vatican also ignores what it doesn’t know — how many naturally conceived embryos are non-viable and naturally miscarried. In any given act of intercourse, a fertile woman has about a 25% chance of live birth. In comparison to my own experience this is about accurate. Of the 11 eggs removed, 8 fertilized, and 3 made it past the 5 day mark. 2 of which will be born in May and the third will be implanted in late 2011. 3 of 11 is a little more than 25%.

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posted January 2, 2009 at 4:09 pm

I think this article is fair, because it exposes the text of ”Dignitas Personae” in a clear way, at least for people who have already read it.
I feel that this is good on the part of Beliefnet, because many of its articles relating to the Church are written by ”lapsed Catholics”, people that have left the Church, or who have almost no sympathy for it, or who don’t really know her.

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Charles Cosimano

posted January 2, 2009 at 6:08 pm

It seems that finding new battles to lose is a tradition in the Vatican.

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posted January 2, 2009 at 6:39 pm

I would like to echo rollo1’s comment and thank Mr. Waldman for his accurate post on this topic, and for posting the full text of the Vatican’s document.

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Gerard Nadal

posted January 3, 2009 at 10:50 am

A note to Danielle. The Vatican ignores nothing, and is well aware of the natural rate of miscarried babies. Scientists such as myself (molecular biologist) are in regular communication with priests and bishops.
More to your point, there is all the difference in the world between a natural ending to a human life-such as a miscarriage-and a technician winnowing a group of embryos for those deemed most desirable, and killing the rest. I believe something similar was tried with humans deemed ‘unfit’ in Germany in the middle of the last century.
Then, there is the erosion of human dignity in IVF when children are no longer begotten by a married couple in a lover’s embrace, but manufactured by technicians, as the parents are relegated to the status of sideline observer during the manufacturing process.
Our dignity exists on a continuum. We compartmentalize it at our own peril. Thirty years from today, many now in favor of IVF will see how forward looking the Vatican has been.

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posted January 3, 2009 at 11:21 am

I am a reproductive endocrinologist (fertility specialist). I perform IVF. Couples who have IVF are INFERTILE, and are usually desparate to have a child. These are not people having a cosmetic procedure on a whim, because it’s trendy or fashionable. They have desparately tried to have children by natural means, the way nature intended. But it has not worked…in fact, it may have created much emotional discord in their lives, marriages, etc. In other words, IVF is a last resort. Patients often feel robbed of a god-given right to bear children…something that can be so easily accomplished by any careless teenager who doesn’t want pregnancy. It hurts them at the core of their being, and is a very personal and often embarrassing problem for them to deal with. I would encourage some of you to put yourselves in their shoes before you pass any judgement…you might be surprised at the choices you would find yourself making.
IVF embryos grow and develop in the laboratory, and approximately 50% of them (at least) are genetically abnormal and never correctly develop. These would most likely not result in a viable pregnancy if implanted into the woman. Usually, they do not even result in pregnancy. Another factor is a woman’s age…which also decreases the likelihood of pregnancy. Therefore, we save all embryos that we reasonably think will have a chance, and give every couple as many chances as possible. In addition, there is incredible care and attention given to embryos. There is respect for their disposition…if for no other reason, because they are so important to the couples who own them…but hopefully for higher reasons as well.
There is so much “dogma” surrounding sexuality and reproduction in our society…everyone is afraid to frankly discuss it or experience it. It is such a taboo for so many people. What a terrible shame! I am Catholic, and i respect the Catholic Church’s positiion, but i frankly think that what is most important is to help the couples who experience infertility and show them compassion…as Jesus would do. In the bible there is the account of Abraham being promised that his infertile wife would bear children and his ofspring would be as numerous as the stars. Unfortunately, we do not have the luxury of God coming out of the clouds and directly promising anyone such a thing. In our times, we are given the technology of IVF…and like all things, it is a creation that God has given us, just as God has given us all things. As for our infertile couples, I’m sorry, but brushing them off with a bunch of rules and regulations, and threatening them with eternal damnation is just cruel in my opinion. And it comes from a group of men and women who “swore off” reproducing to be holy men and women. I can’t see these holy people ever being able to place themselves in the shoes of an infertile couple.

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posted January 3, 2009 at 11:42 am

No one is being judgmental for those desiring IVF … just educating those who ignore God’s laws (i.e., Thou Shalt Not Kill). Thirty-five years ago, I was ignorant of the fact that “life begins at conception.” Now that (good) science has proven this fact of life … IVF could possibily be another “deadly sin.” PS: Don’t shoot the messenger, please.

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posted January 3, 2009 at 1:14 pm

Scientifically IVF embryo is fully human and alive. Thus, the moral question is: “Under what condition is it morally right to take the life of another human being?” Is it morally right to defend the lives of self or others when a terrorist is in the process of killing you? Is it morally right to take the life of others simply because another human being inconvenience you or simply to fulfill your emotional desire?
I know infertile couples who chose adoption as the last resort and others who chose to dedicate their lives to humanity as the last resort. Adoption is a compassionate option as it reduces the problem of unwanted babies. Dedicating self to the betterment of the world is also a compassionate action.
Do couples who undergo abortion or IVF understand that an embyo a living human being? Studies have shown that women with unwanted pregnancies often cancel the abortion once they see their embryo using sonogram.
May we all make the right choice based on sufficient truth?

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posted January 3, 2009 at 10:04 pm

Well, it’s a good thing there such righteous people as yourselves on this earth. Maybe you can come to my clinic sometime and console some of my patients by telling them your truth. Or better yet, maybe you could witness their joy and gratitude when the process works. I suppose once they’ve adopted, maybe they should stop having sexual relations too, since it is only good for procreation and they can’t procreate.

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posted January 3, 2009 at 11:28 pm

My apologies for the sarcasm of that last post.
I have IVF children, and love them with all my heart. I went through all of the decisions personally that couples make when deciding upon IVF. I went through all the guilt imposed by church, and also by people like yourselves who believe that your right and wrong is the only solution. In the end, i listened to my heart. Because no one else can know my life experience the way i do.
I have found in my life that sometimes the “rule book” does not work, as there are just no morally good outcomes for some situations. I think, in this case, one must follow their heart and “to thine own self be true”, realizing that God loves us no matter what we do.
Let’s give you an example: Let’s assume you marry someone, then afterward you discover that they have a sexual dysfunction that makes them unable to have phsyical intimacy. In fact, they refuse to seek help, and it leads to bitter feelings, frustration, and damages your marriage. Such feelings, which are not loving feelings, could be considered sinful. You could choose to live the rest of your life as a married, bitter, celibate individual. For those who say that sexuality and intimacy are not important, or “tough it out”, or “pray to the lord for guidance”, i suspect you will still be bitter. You could obtain an annullment (a church-condoned divorce)which would potentially publicly embarrass your spouse. It would also send a message that they are only loved on the condition that they have sexual function. You could also decide to have an extramarital affair or obtain a divorce. Both of these would be considered sinful. For this individual, there are no good choices.
My point is: no one else can appreciate your experience of your life…and therefore, no one else should set YOUR RULES for YOUR LIFE. You should make your own decisions about your life instead of refusing to think for yourself and deferring to rules handed down by men in pointy hats, because they do not know or understand your experience, no matter how much they/believe they have the authority to do so.
I think that organized religions basically divide people by saying “i’m right and you’re wrong”…”i’m better than you are because i live by the rules (most of the time) and you don’t”…”i will pray for you, and you’ll see the light (that i am right)”. These are the same attitudes Jesus criticized in the Pharisees and scribes. Remember, Jesus himself went against the grain of his society by criticizing the rules of his religion (Judaism). I am of the opinion that this is a lesson from Jesus that should be applied in modern times too…that sometimes our organized religions can also be like scribes and pharisees.
Just my 2 cents…

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posted January 4, 2009 at 9:29 am

but i frankly think that what is most important is to help the couples who experience infertility and show them compassion…
Yes, but the point it, that this act of compassion toward the couple is an act of murder regarding the embryos (according to the RCC). You’re saying think of the couple’s emotional suffering. The Church is saying think of the innocent children who are dying.

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posted January 4, 2009 at 9:38 am

“Jesus himself went against the grain of his society by criticizing the rules of his religion (Judaism).”
No, he didn’t criticize Mosaic Law, he criticized the hypocritical way in which it was being carried out. Pharisees paying tribute to God with their lips and their rituals, but without any true devotion, without any charity toward their neighbors.
Remember, Jesus said He came to fulfill the Law, not erase it. That Law that He came to fulfill includes “Thou Shall Not Kill”.

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Your Name

posted January 4, 2009 at 10:50 am

It seems that the people who have been “officially” designated as the end-all-be-all decision-makers of society have continued their long and tired tradition of dictating how people will carry out their personal lives–all under the premise that a “person” exists within a embryonic cell. Indeed, the act of love that produces our children is a cherished moment in our lives. But, would not the ability for couples who are infertile to produce their children through IVF also be considered an “act of love”? I would think so. I would remind people of the role that the Church has played concerning the battle between science and superstitition. It was believed by some people many years ago that to fight a disease was actually against God’s will. And yet, the medical breakthroughs of today have proven how vital our scientific understanding of the human body is to prolonging and improving our lives. This same type of scientific understanding of the human body is now improving the lives of those people who are not able to have children. What right does the Church and its pious followers have to take this opportunity away from innocent people; and furthermore, to accuss them of murder? This is a most pompous misuse of authority and religious influence ever to strike humanity. Many years from now, religious leaders who accept this out-dated and draconian viewpoint will be judged for their arrogance and abuse. With that point, I believe IVF offers a wonderful opportunity for couples who desire to have children.

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posted January 4, 2009 at 1:37 pm

With all due respect to the Catholic Church, the Pope, and Christians around the world. I think everyone should do whatever gives them peace in their hearts. If the rules of the Church do this…great! If those rules do so for the posters on this IVF topic who believe IVF is murder…great!
Maybe we could spin this a different way…cigarette smokers and alcohol users are murderers too. They are slowly poisoning their systems with toxins that are PROVEN to cause illness and disease. Second hand smoke causes just as much illness as smoking yourself. Alcohol causes liver disease and hypertension. How about overeating and obesity…i wonder how many believers that IVF is murder are Obese, drink alcohol regularly, or smoke? Well, you are slowly murdering yourselves (and possibly others) with these habits…you are just doing it over 25 years rather than in an instant, as with suicide. But you probably will never nit-pick over those habits, if you enjoy alcohol, tobacco, and overeating.
I am only commenting that church laws do not give peace to all people (even many Catholics) who are following these laws due to fear in their hearts. God gives us all free will to live our lives. God also loves us beyond measure. However, what good is free will if we are not free to employ it? How can there be free will that comes with a price of damnation if we don’t choose the choice that “the church wants”? In other words, how free are you choices if someone is looming over you with the threat of punishment…you can either choose “God’s choice” (dictated by church) or make the choice to perish in hell. That is not a choice. Although an extremem example..that would be like being a prisoner of war and being forced to make the choice of the “enemy” or be tortured. I happen to believe that God allows you to be the creater of your own life..and God wants you to make the best choices to live your life to the fullest potential to be like the creator that he is. I think we are hypocritical to think that a discarded embryo does not somehow fit into God’s plan as well, and that the soul that may/may not occupy that embryo didn’t itself choose this destiny at the beginning of time to fulfill it’s own purpose. I’m sorry, but i just don’t think that you, or i, or the Church, or the Pope, have all the answers to the deep and complex mysteries of the universe. Believe whatever you want…but if it doesn’t serve you well and give you peace in your heart, it is of no service to you. For many, IVF brings about the joy of having a family when all others said it was impossible.

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Larry Parker

posted January 4, 2009 at 10:02 pm

**It is true that not all the losses of embryos in the process of in vitro fertilization have the same relationship to the will of those involved in the procedure. But it is also true that in many cases the abandonment, destruction and loss of embryos are foreseen and willed.**
The Church seems to make a distinction here between embryos that are killed with malice and embryos that die accidentally — as often happens immediately after intercourse (in fact, more often that in conceptions that proceed toward what we generally regard pregnancy).
But if life is life … isn’t the failed implantation of an embryo into the uterus — let alone a miscarriage — just as much of an “abortion” as a surgical procedure? Isn’t this the reason the Church opposes abortion in cases of rape and incest? Will the Church be excommunicating faithful couples who come into a Catholic hospital reporting a miscarriage?
That’s where the logical extension of the Church’s standards leads to, IMO.

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Katie Angel

posted January 5, 2009 at 8:35 am

I understand the desire of couples to have children but I consider it to be very selfish to demand that those children be biologically connected to you – which is what IVF comes down to. It isn’t that the couple simply wants a child/children – if that were the case then they could adopt. It is that the want a SPECIFIC child (the correct sex, the correct genes, etc) and therefore are willing to sacrifice other potential children in the process. The Church may not be able to convince people like Mike not to do it – but perhaps writings like this will at least convince us to consider what we are doing and make our choices more conscious.

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Gerard Nadal

posted January 5, 2009 at 1:25 pm

It is not without full understanding of the longing married couples have for a baby, or the tragic impact of infertility on their lives that the Catholic Church bears solemn witness to universal truth.
We start with the understanding that even at the single-celled stage, that is the first stage of development of a human being. It is a stage that all of us have gone through. I say this as a Molecular Biologist. After fertilization, beginning with the single-celled stage we have a new human organism that is full and complete as such in that, and every subsequent stage of its development.
As we employ our technologies, we MUST adhere to the first principle of ethics-THE END DOES NOT JUSTIFY THE MEANS. We must use just means to achieve just ends.
The all too human and noble desire of couples for “a baby of their own” can never justify the winnowing of humans in their embryonic stage of development in the search for the most viable candidates. Some bloggers have suggested a moral equivalence between natural miscarriage and the intentional killing of humans in their embryonic stage of development. How absurd.
Finally, IVF treats these nascent humans as property. The freezing and storage of embryonic humans violates the first and most fundamental charge for parents-to facilitate the growth and development of their children. Molesting and arresting the development of those children by submersing them in liquid nitrogen until it is convenient for the parents to further their children’s development shows the complete lack of understanding all involved have of human nature.
Our human nature is a shared nature. We don’t all have a different human nature. The institutionalization of IVF comes complete with its manufacturing approach to humans, complete with quality control-by discarding rejects-and cold storage (as though the children were mink coats). Such an institution tears at the very fabric of our shared human nature. Therefore, the argument that this decision should only be made by the infertile and those who stand to profit from their infertility is a lie. Our human dignity, our shared human nature is at stake. Inasmuch as that nature is shared, we all have a voice in this debate.

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posted January 6, 2009 at 4:03 pm

I agree with Gerald. We must use just means to achieve just ends.
I am perplexed at the divide on such an issue. It is extremely sad and troublesome.
Many people view the Church as some great evil despot that seeks to control people’s minds and actions. That is unfortunate. I think the Church (among others) can be a great source of guidance and wisdom on extremely complex moral issues. After all, these matters are what they discern and deliberate continuously.
Has the Church made mistakes in the past? Of course. Have there and are there bad people within the organization? For sure. Is there any organization within the history of man without such corruption? No. Not unless they were aliens.
The Church is supposed to proclaim the good news and message of Jesus Christ. Some people feel that when the ugliness of humanity surfaces from within the Church (i.e. priest scandal), it is a license to discredit the entire institution. Not so. If a son is born to a father who commits murder, is the son subject to the same destiny? Of course not. Many people believe that George W. Bush is a terrible person. Does this mean that America is terrible? That would be absurd.
One does not have to be a Christian to recognize that given two choices, one is ultimately better, as is the case here. I had a friend who was raised in the south and was brought up to dispise blacks. He said to me that one night, as a teenager, he spent some time in prayer meditating racism. At age 15, he was able to conclude by himself that racism was wrong. I feel that most people can reach the same conclusion (truth) for themselves if only they give themselves a chance.
Regardless of what the media tells us, our lives are not just about us as individuals. Life is not about self indulgence. We have an obligation to protect the environment for future generations. We must fight to champion equality among men. We must sacrifice ourselves so that we benefit as a planet and as a race.
When I contemplate these very serious issues, I imagine two separate Earths existing at the same time with the same components independent of one another. As they are set in motion, which one will depict a more favorable picture of humanity over time? Which planet will last longer, be happier, more peaceful, more prosperous and more glorious? The Earth whose inhabitants seek to feed one another or the Earth whose people strive to feed themselves as individuals?
There is always a better choice and there is always one truth.

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posted December 14, 2009 at 11:22 am

F u all ok. GOD this God that Human nature this human nature that. MIKE is right! you should use what ever makes you happy in the end thats all god wants. You know how many miscarriages there are a year! that in itself is the same thing as the in-vitro. They dont throw away babies they simply make it easier for some to be born they put five in and sometimes five will come out. it just a help thats all. you guys are so hypocritical honestly. and no am not pregnant – am fine – and am not planning to have one anytime soon. I just beleive that God loves us all the way we are and our decisions when true to our hearts he will understand. If those ‘babies’ were not born am sure he planned for that to happen. It not like the scientist are there saying o lets keep this one and throw away this one. The only way they would “throw away” a baby is if it shows will be born with a deadly disease why in gods name would you want that baby to be born to suffer? retarded. wut ever i just hate people trying to put god into their choices to critisize something they dont understand? I want to kno if all those who oppose it are also infertile? and if so and want to adopt good! do it dont botther other peoples choices! God gave us a mind to advance and if we have gotten this far in technology its for a reason. Again i dont believe they pick and choose.

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posted February 27, 2010 at 12:06 pm

Why don’t we see more picketers outside of in-vitro clinics? YOU ARE LUKEWARM AND JESUS WILL VOMIT YOU OUT OF HIS MOUTH WHEN THE END TIME COMES! Women who attempt to become pregnant, miscarriage after miscarriage, are deliberately killing human beings because after two or three tries they KNOW there is a problem. But they keep getting pregnant and miscarrying (KILLING) babies. They may do this for years before they go in for IVF and kill more in the process of getting pregnant- but once they have that designer baby, suddenly they’re all “pro life” and they’ll take that designer baby to the picket line at the abortion clinic and act like they’re better than everybody else. JESUS WILL JUDGE THEM AND STRIKE THEM ALL DOWN FOR THE HEARTLESS COLD BLOODED KILLERS THEY ARE! MURDERERS!!!

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posted January 31, 2011 at 7:13 am

People deserve good life and personal loans or car loan can make it much better. Just because freedom relies on money.

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posted March 1, 2011 at 7:49 am

Hy blog is giving very useful information.. I wanna share my knowledge about Tubal Ligation Reversal
Women, having a tubal ligation (getting your “tubes tied”) is a permanent way to manage your family size, now the procedure can be reversed and women can be pregnant again.

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posted February 28, 2015 at 7:45 pm

Jesus Christ himself is the most awesome example that I can think of whom was born by unconventional method. I believe god created medicine to help us improve our lives. Since when is having a child considered a sin? Yes some embryos may arrest but that is because they were not viable anyway. I do disagree with discarding extra embryos. However I don’t feel there is anything wrong with freezing extra embryos. Just like when we donate organs or blood. Anyways at the end of the day god gives children to whom he wills. That doesn’t mean if you are infertile you should stay that way. It means if god doesn’t will for you to have children you can do 100 ivfs and it won’t work. If it works it’s because god willed it; Ivf or natural conception. For that matter. Doctors can help you get pregnant but god gives you your soul. Amen peace out.

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