FARGO - North Dakota's only clinic offering in vitro fertilization will have to stop the infertility treatment if voters approve an amendment next month.
The three doctors who offer IVF at the Sanford Reproductive Medicine Clinic held a news conference Monday opposing Measure 1.
Approved by the Legislature last spring and set to appear on the Nov. 4 ballot, the measure would add to the constitution: "The inalienable right to life of every human being at any stage of development must be recognized and protected."
If it passes, Stephanie Dahl said IVF would be "impossible" here, a view shared by four national reproductive health groups that oppose the measure.
"It will affect hundreds of North Dakota families who dream of having children," she said.
The North Dakota Medical Association released a statement saying it would not side with either coalition opposing or supporting the amendment. But it opposed the legislation in 2013, and said it still has those same concerns now about the "imprecise wording" that could cause "unintended consequences."
IVF is often the only successful option for infertility patients, Dahl said, especially those diagnosed with male-factor infertility. The treatment, which involves surgically removing eggs from the ovaries and combining them with sperm in a lab, sometimes results in abnormal eggs that can put the mother at risk.
"However, under Measure 1, these abnormally fertilized eggs must be protected, even if they have no chance of growing into a healthy baby and will result in miscarriage," she said.
Even a lab accident, such as an incubator malfunction that destroys embryos, could become a criminal offense, Dahl said.
Kristen Cain said it represents an "attack" on patient-physician privacy and the rights of women and families.
"It is ironic that personhood Measure 1 will eliminate the possibility of having a family for many North Dakota and Minnesota residents," she said.
Steffen Christensen, who helped found the clinic 20 years ago, said more than 1,000 babies have been born because of the treatment offered in Fargo. But this measure could "literally shut us down" and lead to his possible retirement, he said.
If approved, he said his colleagues could face criminal charges for what they do on a routine basis.
"We've been successful, we've followed all the ethical rules and regulations and we want to continue to serve the patients of North Dakota and our whole region," he said.
The Sanford Reproductive Medicine Clinic serves patients from throughout North Dakota and portions of Minnesota, Dahl said. If it closes, the nearest centers for IVF treatment would be in Minneapolis and Sioux Falls, S.D., and those in western North Dakota might have to go to Colorado or Montana.