A prominent conservative group hopes to derail a congressional effort to give wounded veterans access to fertility services through the VA, saying it could lead to human cloning and three-parent embryos.
The Washington, D.C.-based Family Research Council sent an email last week to congressional staff working on the final Military Construction and Veterans Affairs appropriations bill, voicing opposition to a provision that would require the Veterans Affairs Department to cover fertility services for former troops with injuries that cause infertility.
In the email, an FRC representative called the language in the Senate bill, penned by Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., "terrible," adding that it was "broad enough to cover reproductive technologies from IVF to human cloning to 3-parent embryos."
"It does not have any restrictions on whether treatment would include the creation of human embryos, the storage of or freezing of human embryos or whether and how embryos that are left over would be destroyed," according to the correspondence.
Roughly 1,800 Iraq and Afghanistan veterans received injuries to their groins, genitalia or spinal cords that make it difficult to have children without medical assistance, and while the Defense Department provides some advanced fertility treatments to these service members while they are on active duty, the VA is barred by law from doing so.
Since 2012, Murray has pressed her fellow lawmakers to cover fertility services for these veterans, most recently in a rider to the fiscal 2017 VA funding bill.
In the email, the FRC said the Murray provision "violates principles … which pro-lifers have fought to maintain for years."
As an alternative, the organization voiced support for a bill offered by Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Fla., chairman of the House Veterans Affairs Committee, that would provide $20,000 in two separate payments for injured troops to use for any need, including to starting a family.
"We are not opposed to fertility treatments, generally. Our concern is how is the language is in the Murray bill that could lead to destryong destroying embryos, and we have concerns about this," said David Christensen. FRC vice president for government relations. "The Miller language is saying they could use the money for adoption or however they want to spend it."
Critics, including Murray, say $20,000 would barely cover one round of in vitro fertilization for a couple.
Veterans and affected family members have been on Capitol Hill since May meeting with lawmakers in support of Murray's legislation.
Some, like retired Army Staff Sgt. Matt Keil and his wife Tracy, spent more than $30,000 out of pocket to have children. Matt Keil was paralyzed by an Iraqi sniper's bullet in 2007.
Tracy Keil said she understands why some oppose fertility services for religious reasons. But, she added, the individual decision should be left to a family.
"We had to have our own coming-to-Jesus moment," Tracy Keil said. "For us, our desire to have a family was stronger than concern for what would happen to the embryos. That's not anyone else's business," Keil said.
Crystal Black and her fiance, Army Cpl. Tyler Wilson, said they decided they would donate any embryos that they didn't use. But after starting with 19 eggs, they are down to their last few after an attempt to get pregnant.
"You just never know how it will work out," Black said.
Lawmakers debating the Military Construction and Veterans Affairs appropriations bill are expected to report a final version by Tuesday afternoon with a hope of going to a vote on the final bill by June 24.
Patricia Kime covers military and veterans health care and medicine for Military Times. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.