Health & Wellness

The Reproductive Health Technologies Project (RHTP) worked to change the political and commercial climate in the United States so every woman has access to safe and effective technologies to become pregnant when she is ready, prevent or end pregnancy when she is not, maintain a healthy pregnancy, and promote her health and well being throughout her reproductive life.

RHTP took an expansive view of technology: reproductive technologies mean not only those necessary to prevent or terminate a pregnancy, but those that assist in the creation and maintenance of healthy pregnancies as well as the information and supports needed to make informed decisions.

The reproductive health needs of women and men change over time and are influenced by a variety of biological and situational factors. It is estimated that a woman spends approximately three decades of her life attempting not to become pregnant.  During this time, physical, behavioral and environmental factors may impact a woman’s or couple’s ability to become pregnant in the future. Additionally, the number of women and men choosing to delay having children continues to rise, increasing the demand for infertility treatments.

Assisted Reproductive Technologies

Assisted reproductive technology (ART) refers to a range of methods used to circumvent human infertility. These procedures typically involve surgically removing eggs from a woman’s ovaries, combining them with sperm in the laboratory, and either implanting them in the woman’s body or making them available to another woman. The three primary types of ART include:

  • in vitro fertilization (IVF) – a common procedure in which eggs are surgically removed from the ovary and mixed with sperm in a petri dish (literally “in glass”). The resulting embryo(s) is then transferred to the women’s uterus.
  • gamete intrafallopian transfer (GIFT) – a procedure in which gametes are transferred directly into the fallopian tubes. In GIFT, fertilization occurs inside the body.
  • zygote intrafallopian transfer (ZIFT) – a procedure in which a zygote (the cell resulting from the union of two gametes) is transferred directly into the fallopian tubes.

Since the first successful IVF birth in 1978, the number of ART births has steadily increased — there are now more than one million children who were born as a result of ART. Although data on ART is limited, in the US alone there were approximately 115,392 ART procedures resulting in 45,751 babies born in 2002 — a 45% increase from 1996. A recent report shows the number of babies born annually as a result of ART in the US is nearing one percent.

Although ART has been around for several decades, recent scientific advances and the growing number of infertility advocates have sparked national debates on issues ranging from calls for tighter controls over the types of ART procedures used to insurance coverage for infertility treatments.

Environmental Contaminants and Fertility

The growing trend in a range of infertility problems has caused a number of scientists, health care professionals, and advocates to take a closer look at the relationship between environmental contaminants and fertility. In late February 2005, at the Vallombrosa Retreat Center in California, the Fertility/Early Pregnancy Compromise Work Group of the Collaborative on Health and the Environment (CHE) and the Stanford University School of Medicine’s Women’s Health hosted Understanding Environmental Contaminants and Human Fertility Compromise: Science and Strategy.

The gathering was the first time women’s health and reproductive rights advocates met with researchers in reproductive epidemiology, biology, toxicology and clinical medicine to assess the state of environmental health science in relation to human infertility. The outcome document, known as the Vallombrosa Consensus Statement, outlines what we know, what we think we know and what we want to know more about when it comes to the links between environmental contaminants and human fertility.