In vitro fertilization ad fights anti-abortion bill

Courtesy of Tell Them. Billboard featuring 3-year-old Lula Lassor as part of a campaign to draw attention to the so-called “personhood” anti-abortion bill.

COLUMBIA — An advertising campaign opposing a proposed personhood bill will be unveiled on billboards around Charleston in the coming days.

The campaign features 3-year-old Lula Lassor, of Charleston, who was conceived by in vitro fertilization or IVF. “Some lawmakers are anti-Lula,” the billboards say. “Protect in vitro fertilization.”

The procedure, used by women who have difficulty conceiving, involves fertilization of an egg in a lab and then transferring the embryo to a woman’s uterus.

It is a costly, sometimes difficult procedure — and one that advocates say may not be possible under the so-called “personhood” legislation being considered by the Legislature.

The legislation would give legal status to any fertilized human egg. The measure has been considered in South Carolina for 16 years in a row without success, but it is considered a key goal for abortion opponents because it would directly challenge the U.S. Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision that guarantees a woman’s constitutional right to abortion.

Other states have also considered and ultimately rejected such initiatives, but abortion opponents say the Supreme Court needs a new challenge on the issue.

Many want South Carolina to provide that challenge and say guaranteeing the constitutional rights of a fertilized egg offers the best legal avenue to do that.

Tell Them, the Columbia-based advocacy group pushing the new ad campaign against the legislation, wants to spread the message that abortion isn’t the only thing that the personhood proposal would restrict, said Emma Davidson Tribbs, the group’s spokeswoman.

IVF, birth control and sex education could also suffer if the bill becomes law, she said. The advocacy group has planned advertising campaigns around all three issues. Billboards are up or planned for the Charleston and Columbia areas, and print advertising is running in other parts of South Carolina.

“We see this campaign as showing that there’s a movement in South Carolina to distract people from the issues that are really going on,” Davidson Tribbs said. “It’s time to start talking about the real issues.” Among those are domestic violence and comprehensive sex education, she said.

Lula’s mother, Aimee Lassor, said that her daughter was conceived at a fertility clinic through an $18,000 fertility procedure. Doctors had told her that was the best option for her to have a biological child.

Lassor, 37, said she is concerned about the personhood legislation on a number of levels. She works for a nonprofit that seeks to reduce teen pregnancy, and many believe personhood legislation would restrict or outlaw many forms of birth control.

She also said she believes in a woman’s right to choose. “There’s just so many different factors that go into a woman choosing abortion, I think it’s important for that choice to be preserved,” Lassor said.

She said friends who have seen the billboards in Columbia have responded positively, although she knows the debate around abortion is an emotional one.

“Sometimes I feel like it’s worth it to put yourself out there so people can fully understand this issue of the personhood bill,” Lassor said.

Sen. Lee Bright, R-Roebuck, sponsor of the personhood bill, said he was glad Tell Them was bringing up the issue. “They’re discussing the issue and that’s my goal,” he said. Bright said the goal of the bill is not to outlaw birth control or IVF. He said he would consider amendments to the bill allowing both to stay intact and would “absolutely” support them.

“I would like to see us do something that matters (on abortion),” Bright said. “If the Republicans really were serious about stopping abortion they could stop it, but they like having the issue. I would love for abortion to no longer be legal and we can argue about other points.”

Reach Jeremy Borden at 708-5837.