For many families, the journey to parenthood seems out of reach due to infertility – or simply the inability of individuals and couples to afford treatments in order to get pregnant.
Heterosexual couples can save money by deducting the cost of in vitro fertilization (IVF) or intrauterine insemination (IUI) treatments from their income taxes. But that luxury is not afforded to LGBTQ+ couples looking to conceive through IVF or other similar methods.
Jaimie Kelton and her wife, Anne Woods, have always wanted to start a family.
The New York couple originally planned for Kelton to carry the child, since she was younger, but then Woods decided she also wanted the chance to carry their baby. So the pair decided Woods would go through the process first after they got married.
“We went to the fertility clinic, we bought sperm from a sperm bank, anonymous sperm – bought a bunch of sperm, which cost money, went to the fertility clinic and got started with my wife. And we did IUI – which our insurance miraculously covered,” recalled Kelton.
But after the artificial insemination treatment failed, Kelton said her doctor suggested they try IVF because the IUI treatment wasn't working. The couple believed the treatment would be covered by their insurance.
“We went through all the procedures, we took the fertility drugs, did all the stuff, and got back to the clinic to do the retrieval. And instead of taking us into the procedure room, they took us into an office and slid a bill across the table to us," Kelton said.
The couple stared at a $15,000 bill that they said they "were not expecting to pay."
Kelton and Woods decided to move forward, paying the bill on their credit cards and later taking out a loan against Woods’ pension to pay off the credit card debt. The couple believes the gamble was worth it as Woods became pregnant with their daughter, who is now 8.
The couple is not alone in this fight. IVF cycles cost thousands of dollars for prospective parents. Penn Medicine estimates that from 1987-2015, 1 million babies were born in the United States using IVF or other assisted reproductive technologies.
But while fertility treatments have developed over the last four decades, being able to afford them can be a challenge for the LGBTQ+ community.
Heterosexual couples are typically allowed to claim the expenses associated with surrogacy or IVF on their income tax. But those same benefits have not been extended to members of the LGBTQ+ community, who want families just as much as heterosexual couples.
In June, California Democratic Reps. Adam Schiff, and Judy Chu introduced the Equal Access to Reproductive Care Act, which would close a loophole in the tax code to cover fertility treatments as "medical care."
The bill would modernize "the federal tax code to allow equal treatment to those using assisted reproductive treatments and surrogacy arrangements regardless of sexual orientation, gender identity, and, when applicable, ability status," according to a fact sheet released by the lawmakers.
"Every person regardless of their sexual orientation, gender identity, ability, or relationship status deserves the same opportunity to start and expand a family," Schiff said in a statement. "But right now, our tax code is sorely outdated and makes it harder for LGBTQ+ individuals and couples to afford treatments to bring children into their families, such as IVF. This bill would rectify this iniquity by allowing LGBTQ+ couples to deduct the cost of assisted reproductive treatments as a medical expense – a privilege heterosexual couples already have."
"Every American deserves access to quality reproductive care and the Equal Access to Reproductive Care Act will even the grounds for taxpaying families seeking deductions on reproductive expenses — regardless of sexual orientation, gender identity, ability status or marital status — and will ensure greater access and affordability for critical family planning care," Rep. Chu said in a statement. This legislation is an important step forward in closing decades long disparity gaps in the tax code and building reproductive care equity for families across the country."
A spokesperson for Rep. Chu's office said that she "is committed to building health equity for all and is eager to support legislation which will do just that."
“All American taxpayers would be able to claim those medical expenses, which we all know are extraordinarily expensive to seek out reproductive treatments and assisted reproductive treatments,” Rhonda Schwindt, an associate professor at the George Washington University School of Nursing, told Spectrum News.
Schwindt, who is also a certified psychiatric/mental health clinical nurse specialist and nurse practitioner, said the bill would "eliminate barriers that result in health inequity and health disparities in minority populations."
Woods and Kelton eventually took out about $60,000 in loans to have their daughter, and then later their son. Kelton says while this bill won’t be able to recover the cost for their family, she says she "wouldn’t change a thing."
Kelton does, however, hope this bill can shed light on the stigma and discrimination many LGBTQ+ couples face when it comes to expanding their families. Most of the discussions centered around fertility and infertility are about heterosexual couples who are experiencing infertility, she said to Spectrum News.
"There's so many of us. I mean, we're your mothers, we're your sisters, we're your brothers," Kelton continued. "We're everywhere, but it's not thought of that way.”
While the future of the bill is unclear, Kelton is continuing to use her voice to advocate for LGBTQ+ reproductive rights and provide a community of support for those seeking to create their own families. During her fertility journey, she launched a podcast with a friend called "If These Ovaries Could Talk” to let others know they are not alone.
“I thought, well, surely there must be a podcast about queer people making babies because there's a podcast about everything,” recalled Kelton. “I looked, and there wasn't one. And I just couldn't believe that our stories, these stories ... are out there, but we are creating our families and jumping through hoops to create them.”
“Representation matters [and] our stories matter, we need to see ourselves reflected in the media," she added.
Kelton described her podcast, which has since grown, as a "resource for LGBTQ families and allies, and people who are going through fertility because our families, first of all, our families don't happen by accident, they are very intentional.”
A spokesperson for Rep. Schiff’s office told Spectrum News that he has been working on this particular issue for a year now. It's not yet scheduled for a vote as the bill remains in committee, but could be taken up this fall when the House returns from its recess.