Should Sperm Donation Be More Like Adoption?

A conservative group is pushing to make sperm donation as closely regulated as adoption — because, they claim, children of sperm donors face problems down the road. But do they have other motivations?

Doree Shafrir writes in Newsweek about a study funded by the Institute for American Values (IAV), which apparently showed that kids conceived through donor sperm are more likely to "struggle with serious, negative outcomes such as delinquency, substance abuse, and depression," and "experience profound struggles with their origins and identities" than those conceived the old-fashioned way. Says Elizabeth Marquardt, study coauthor and VP of family studies at IAV,

When we're talking about sperm donation, I have real concerns about anybody using it. If a married heterosexual couple came to me and said, ‘We're thinking about this,' I'd say I'm opposed. But definitely, the single-mom-by-choice offspring, based on our data, are hurting the most. It's just a high-risk strategy, emotionally or otherwise, for creating a baby.

Marquardt seems to think these supposed risks would be mitigated if sperm donation were treated more like adoption, which she describes as "a good and vital pro-child institution that finds families for children who need them." She explains,

One of the things I like to do is say, ‘Let's treat it like adoption if it's just like adoption, where there are home screenings and people being told you're not fit to be a parent in this way. One of the reasons why people do donor conception instead of adoption is it's much more private. A social worker doesn't come to your home. It's much more private and that's why people do it.

The implication here is that Marquardt believes lots of people who are "not fit" are becoming parents via sperm donation — and as Shafrir points out, making the procedure "just like adoption" would mean gay people could be banned from using it, as they are banned from adopting in some states. Shafrir says the IAV has long had an anti-gay agenda, writing that the group "has for the last 23 years sought to guard heterosexual marriages from the threats of homosexuality." Marquardt disputes this in a response, countering that "we have no organizational position on the matter. Different leaders among us take different positions (as do different bloggers at this blog)." She, for her part, takes the rather unusual position that gay marriage should be legal only in areas that "ban anonymous donation of sperm, eggs, and wombs - and with it, the erroneous idea that children are just made from random gametes and don't care where they come from."

Marquardt's views are apparently informed by a belief that kids deserve access to both their biological parents. In Newsweek, she calls for "strong norms that help encourage people. ‘Hey, moms, one of the best things you can give your child is a baby's father'" — but of course regulating sperm donation isn't going to do anything for the many moms who conceived their kids without medical help but are still raising them on their own. Making sperm donation more difficult would only make it harder for women to choose to be single moms. Says Marna Gatlin of Parents via Egg Donation,

The conservative right has wanted for a long time to control women's choices. This is just another way of doing that. I feel like if the government steps in and starts regulating egg and sperm donation, then guess what else they're going to come in and say they need to change? Roe v. Wade.

IAV's website is a bit cagey on the subject of abortion — a recent post by Marquardt says that the Institute long "bracketed" the issue so as to "make headway on the broader question of family structure and child well-being," but recently decided to end the bracketing with a discussion. Said discussion is frustratingly vague, characterized by statements like, "To talk about the commodification of children, or the rhetoric of 'wanted' children (those conceived through [assisted reproductive technologies] are said to be 'wanted,' those aborted are said to be 'unwanted'), or the choices urged upon young women in their fertile years who then find themselves ready to have children but are no longer fertile - all of this and more continually raises the question of abortion." In another post, Karen Clark writes,

I think an important question that we as a society should be asking ourselves is "Do we have a responsibility for our own sperm and egg when combined to create a new life?" (inside and outside of the womb). And if we think, as society with integrity, that we do, what should our society do to promote this?

Again, these arguments fall short — seemingly by design — of a clear position on abortion. But with their language about "wanted" and "unwanted," the IAV seems to be suggesting that prospective parents shouldn't be the ones to decide whether they have a child. Rather, that decision should rest elsewhere — with social workers who visit their homes, with the government, and perhaps with God (Clark's post quotes an abortion "survivor" who says "You better be nice to me because my Father runs the world"). The IAV may genuinely care about the rights of donor offspring — but in their efforts to be pro-child, they look pretty anti-parent.

Infertility Wars [Newsweek]
Newsweek On The ‘Infertility Wars' [FamilyScholars.org]
The Subject We Don't Talk About [FamilyScholars.org]