Freezing an Embryo as an Alternative to Abortion

Consider a sexually active woman who does not want to become pregnant. Assume that she lives in New York State where abortion is legally available. Both she and her partner use contraception. She monitors her condition by testing herself daily. Suppose that her pregnancy test gives a positive result. Currently, she has only two options: to get an abortion or to give birth in 9 months.

As she has focused her energy on her career, she does not feel emotionally or financially prepared to make either choice. At this time, she is not ready to assume the responsibility of motherhood. Although many rabbis regard an embryo as a part of the mother’s body, she wants to avoid getting an abortion if she can find a way to defer becoming a mother.

She has learned that an embryo can be frozen up to 7 days after fertilization. Why doesn’t she immediately visit an in vitro fertilization (IVF) clinic to ask their doctors if they can remove the embryo from her uterus and freeze the embryo?

Embryo freezing, also called embryo cryopreservation, is a process to freeze and store embryos for future use. She can later donate the frozen embryo for adoption, donate it for research, or use it herself. The embryo, which can be stored up to 10 years, remains the biologic age at which it is frozen. However, this procedure is not without risk. Freezing can damage an embryo. Thawing it later can also damage it.

About the Author
Ted Sheskin is an emeritus professor of industrial engineering and the author of a textbook, Markov Chains and Decision Processes for Engineers and Managers. He has published peer-reviewed papers on engineering systems and mathematical algorithms. His letters to editors addressing politics, economic policy, and issues facing Israel and American Jews have appeared in the NY Times, Daily News, Cleveland Plain Dealer, Cleveland Jewish News, Jewish Week, the Forward, and Jewish Voice.
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