This Day In History: December 28

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On December 28, 1981, the first American "test-tube baby," a child born as a result of in-vitro fertilization, is born in Norfolk, Virginia. Considered a miracle at the time, births like that of Elizabeth Jordan Carr are now common.

In-vitro fertilization is a process in which doctors fertilize an egg outside of a woman's body and implant the developing embryo in the womb. In this way, women with damaged or missing Fallopian tubes, which carry fertilized eggs from ovaries to the uterus, are able to become pregnant. Doctors carried out the first successful in-vitro fertilization of a rabbit in 1959, and the first human test-tube baby was born in England in 1978. One of the doctors responsible, Dr. Robert Edwards, was awarded the Nobel Prize in 2010.

A number of successful IVF-induced pregnancies followed, leading the husband-and-wife team of Drs. Howard and Georgeanna Jones to open an IVF clinic at Eastern Virginia Medical School in 1980. "I think this is a day of hope," Howard Jones said after Carr and her mother were declared to be in perfect health, citing the roughly 600,000 American women who could theoretically give birth thanks to the procedure.

IVF was not without its critics. Many in the medical community were cautious about "playing God." IVF drew condemnation from figures like Rev. Jerry Falwell and others in the "Moral Majority," a socially conservative movement that was in its ascendancy in the early 1980s. The Roman Catholic Church opposes IVF on the grounds that it separates marital sex from the act of conception, while others continue to criticize what they perceive as an industry built around selling IVF to couples with fertility issues. Nonetheless, the procedure has been refined over several decades and is now fairly common, leading to an estimated 5 million total births as of a 2012 study. It is estimated that IVF now accounts for over one percent of American births every year.