04/26/2011 04:33 pm ET Updated Jun 18, 2011

Offensive Animals Rights Ad Enrages Infertility Community

I have to admit that, at first, I didn't want to write this blog post.

Recently, an international animal rights organization announced a two-for-one special: Men who had their pets spayed or neutered could enter a contest for a free vasectomy. Of course, this raffle seemed odd, but what infuriated me and countless others is that the organization said they would announce the winner during the last week of April "in honor" of National Infertility Awareness Week. They actually made light of a disease (yes, infertility is a disease) that tears people apart emotionally and psychologically. They poked fun at people who are truly suffering.

I didn't want to write about this because I didn't want to give attention to this animal rights organization. However, what happened within the infertility community after this particular vasectomy raffle was announced is worth blogging about.

Millions of people are struggling with infertility, but few talk about it openly (a topic I addressed in a recent post). Maybe this animal rights organization was banking on that fact. Maybe they figured they could joke about those battling infertility to publicize their own message, and they could do so without resistance.

They were wrong.

The infertility community immediately came together in solidarity. They spoke out. One infertility blogger and women's health advocate, Keiko Zoll, started a petition asking that the organization apologize and remove all mention of National Infertility Awareness Week from the ad. Within three days, the petition received more than 2,200 signatures. Also, Resolve: The National Infertility Association condemned the campaign, saying that it was a "trivialization of infertility" and "hurtful to the 7.3 million Americans who suffer from the disease."

In response to this outcry, the animal rights organization first changed the wording "in honor" of National Infertility Awareness Week to "during." That wasn't enough. The infertility community fought back further and inundated the organization with phone calls and emails, saying what they did was insensitive and wrong. After one week, their efforts paid off: Any reference to National Infertility Awareness Week was finally removed from the ad (though no formal apology has been issued).

Of course, this was a huge victory, but many, like Zoll, look at the bigger picture. "I think the take-home message is that the infertility community proved we can rally and that when we speak out, our voices can be heard," she says. "If we could translate that power into action against the bigger issues we face -- like fighting misconceptions of infertility in the media and getting widespread mandated insurance coverage -- we really have the potential to make a difference and lift a lot of the cultural sigma surrounding this disease."

I applaud those battling infertility for taking a stand and fighting back. These men and women banded together and spoke out, many for the first time. And I even commend the animal rights organization for listening to them and removing the offensive language from the ad.

However, I don't understand this organization's need to hurt others to make a point. You don't see people battling infertility verbally attacking those with, say, diabetes or multiple sclerosis just to promote their own cause.

And, for the record, I am a huge supporter of animal rights: I volunteer at my local shelter; I regularly donate to The Humane Society; and my life certainly would not have been the same without the loving pets I've shared it with. But there has to be a better way to protect animals than by tearing down people who have suffered (and alienating would-be supporters in the process.)

National Infertility Awareness Week, which is the last week of April, strives to bust myths about infertility and increase sensitivity to the painful struggle that 1 in 8 couples face while trying to start a family.

The original vasectomy ad clearly showed a need for such education -- and the fact that the organization actually listened to the infertility community and changed the ad proves that increased sensitivity and understanding is very possible.

Dina Roth Port, a freelance writer for publications such as Glamour, Parenting and Prevention, is author of Previvors: Facing the Breast Cancer Gene and Making Life-Changing Decisions. Visit her website at