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Alabama's IVF ruling puts Republicans in a political bind

The recent Alabama Supreme Court decision found that embryos are children, causing Republican politicians to scramble to figure out where they stand on the matter.
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As Republicans struggle to coalesce around a message on abortion ahead of the 2024 elections, a recent Alabama Supreme Court decision finding that embryos created through in vitro fertilization are considered children has put them in a new bind.

The issue has created complications for politicians who have pushed strict anti-abortion policies, said that they believe life begins at conception, or believe that an embryo or fetus deserves the full rights of a person. The Alabama Supreme Court ruling showed the far-reaching consequences those sorts of policies could have for families, and the political difficulties Republicans still face in coming up with a way to talk about the issue to voters.

The ruling has many doctors and families worried that IVF will become less available, because people could theoretically be sued for destroying an embryo. During the IVF process, embryos are often discarded if they have genetic abnormalities or after patients decide they will not need to use them.

Already, three facilities in the state have paused IVF services.

On Wednesday, Republican presidential candidate Nikki Haley told NBC News that she supported the Alabama ruling, stating, “Embryos, to me, are babies.” But just a few hours later, Haley seemed to walk back her comment on CNN, saying, “I didn’t say that I agreed with the Alabama ruling.” She added, however, that she still believes “an embryo is an unborn baby.”

And on Thursday, Haley again tried to clean up her answer, saying that the court decision may have been right but that there needed to be a new law: “I think that the court was doing it based on the law, and I think Alabama needs to go back and look at the law.”

At the Conservative Political Action Conference in Maryland on Thursday, Sen. Tommy Tuberville, R-Ala., replied, “Yeah, I was all for it,” when asked what he thought of the decision finding that embryos are children.

But he also seemed unclear on what the decision was.

“You know, you just got to look at everything going on in the country. It’s just an attack on families stacked on kids,” he told NBC News.

“We need more kids,” he added. “We need people to have an opportunity to have kids.”

South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott evaded a question Thursday about Alabama’s ruling, saying, “Well, I haven’t studied the issue.”

The former presidential hopeful, who has now endorsed former President Donald Trump, instead took a jab at Haley for her muddled answers on the issue.

“I’m gonna let Nikki Haley continue to go back and forth on that,” said Scott, who had vowed to sign “the most conservative pro-life legislation” if elected president.

Mini Timmaraju, the president of Reproductive Freedom for All, said she wasn’t surprised by the inability of Scott and Tuberville to answer seemingly straightforward questions on IVF.

“When you see folks like Tommy Tuberville today or Tim Scott getting uncomfortable answering questions, it’s because they know how incredibly unpopular the position is,” Timmaraju said.

On Thursday, President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris criticized the Alabama ruling, drawing a line from the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to overturn federal abortion rights.

“Make no mistake: this is a direct result of Donald Trump ending Roe v. Wade,” Biden posted on X. “The Vice President and I won’t stop until we restore the protections of Roe v. Wade in federal law for all women in every state.”

Republican Gov. Brian Kemp also defended IVF on Thursday, saying, “You have a lot of people out there in this country that they wouldn’t have children if it weren’t for that.” In 2022, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported that audio of Kemp appeared to indicate that he was open to a statewide ban on the destruction of embryos. But in a follow-up comment, the paper said, the governor’s office said he would not support such a proposal if it were formally introduced.

In vitro fertilization, or IVF, allows doctors to test embryos for genetic abnormalities and then implant only the ones that are healthy. But Alabama’s ruling could force clinics to store all their frozen embryos — an expensive process — regardless of those genetic tests.

And IVF has long received bipartisan support. Former Vice President Mike Pence, an outspoken opponent of abortion, opened up in his book about his and his wife’s struggles with infertility and wrote that his wife, Karen, underwent IVF multiple times.

“I fully support fertility treatments, and I think they deserve the protection of the law,” he said in 2022.

Trump has so far not weighed in on the ruling, and his campaign did not return a request for comment.

Katie Daniel, from the group Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America — whose mission statement is to end abortion — said Alabama’s high court made the correct decision, but that doesn’t mean all IVF procedures need to end.

“The Alabama Court recognized what is obvious and a scientific fact — life begins at conception. That does not mean fertility treatment is prohibited. Rather it means fertility treatments need not carelessly or intentionally destroy the new life created,” Daniel said.

In Alabama, a Republican state legislator, Sen. Tim Melson, said he planned to introduce legislation to protect IVF and clarify when embryos are viable.

“We all know that conception is a big argument that it’s life. I won’t argue that point, but it’s not going to form into a life until it’s put into the uterus,” Melson told the Alabama Reflector.

The split in the conservative movement was on display at two different gatherings going on Thursday.

At the National Religious Broadcasters convention in Nashville, Tennessee, there was support for the ruling from some of the participants. Jo Anne Ramsay from Virginia Beach, Virginia, said she believes “it’s a baby from the moment that the sperm is released into a female,” and that “they should stop anything that would destroy the life of a human being.”

Maureen Maldonado from Flower Mound, Texas, said “hallelujah” to the ruling.

“I believe that they are viable human beings and they should be protected just like you and I should be protected. So I am so excited about it,” she said.

But at the Conservative Political Action Conference on Thursday, some Republican women expressed concern about the ruling.

Michele Schwab, from Doylestown, Pa., said she supports IVF due to her own daughter’s struggles with pregnancy.

“My own daughter lost two babies. So it’s ... I’m emotional,” Schwab said.

As for politicians who may attempt to restrict IVF, Schwab says they’ll lose her vote: “I would not support a politician that goes against that.”