History Ph.D. Dissertations


Embryonic Policies: Reproductive Technology and Federal Regulation

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)



First Advisor

Leigh Ann Wheeler (Committee Co-Chair)

Second Advisor

Andrew Schocket (Committee Co-Chair)

Third Advisor

Walter Grunden (Committee Member)

Fourth Advisor

Donald Nieman (Committee Member)

Fifth Advisor

Michael Brooks (Committee Member)


This project examines the intersection of in vitro fertilization and abortion during the early 1970s. Because of the potential destruction of laboratory created embryos, anti-abortion activists and politicians linked these two procedures together soon after the Supreme Court decided Roe v. Wade. Tracing the implications of this discursive connection throughout the 1970s and 1980s, this dissertation argues that IVF's ties to abortion stunted its development in the United States by making the reproductive technology a controversial issue. The questions that direct this study are: why did IVF policy originate in the United States during the early 1970s and how did these policies affect the development of in vitro fertilization in America. Further, this study questions how government policies on IVF changed over time and what outside forces contributed to such changes. This project investigates how IVF developed in the United States by examining governmental policies surrounding the reproductive technology.

This study has depended on archival materials, along with newspaper and magazine articles, government documents, and scholarship on infertility, motherhood, bioethics, and abortion. The American government neglected to fund human IVF because anti-abortion activists linked the new reproductive technology to abortion. As IVF continued to be associated with abortion in the early years of its development, this study explores how clinical expanded throughout the United States despite the lack of federal funding. Private, unregulated clinics offered IVF services, but success rates were low and the procedure was expensive. Policymakers became aware of the potential for consumer exploitation in the unregulated, unfunded field, and some sought to rectify these problems. Focusing on government policies has elucidated how the connection between IVF and abortion first emerged, affected government policy, and eventually weakened enough to allow policymakers to revisit the new reproductive technology and regulate the medical field.

This dissertation contributes to current literature in women's history, the history of science and technology, bioethics, reproductive rights, and government regulation. The study of government policies surrounding IVF research is an example of the contentiousness of abortion issue and all that it touched in the United States. However, the story of IVF also serves as an example that the far-reaching controversy over abortion did have its limitations.