Alabama I.V.F. Ruling Opens New Front in Election-Year Abortion Battles

Alabama I.V.F. Ruling Opens New Front in Election-Year Abortion Battles

An Alabama Supreme Court ruling that frozen embryos should be considered children has created a new political nightmare for Republicans nationally, who distanced themselves from a fringe view of reproductive health that threatened to drive away voters in November.

Several Republican governors and lawmakers immediately rejected a Republican-majority court’s decision and expressed support for in vitro fertilization treatments. Some spoke about their personal experiences with infertility. Others said they would not support federal restrictions on IVF, drawing a distinction between their support of widespread fertility treatments and their opposition to abortion.

“There has been concern for years that artificial insemination could be taken away from women everywhere,” Republican Rep. Nancy Mace of South Carolina said in an interview Thursday. “We must do everything we can to protect women’s access to IVF in every state.”

But even as some Republicans backed away from the court’s decision, Republican lawmakers in conservative states planned to push through bills that would declare that life begins at conception – a policy that could have serious consequences for fertility treatments.

Others campaigned to protect IVF treatments. Tim Melson, a Republican senator in Alabama, said he plans to introduce legislation making it clear that embryos are not viable until they are implanted in a woman’s uterus.

The split was a new twist on a familiar problem for the party. Since the Supreme Court Roe v. Wade repealed, many Republicans, including former President Donald J. Trump, have tried to avoid the issue of abortion and portray their proposals – such as a 15-week federal ban – as common sense policies that can be appealed to moderate voters.

But such efforts have been repeatedly undermined by their conservative Christian allies in statehouses, who viewed the decline in federal abortion rights as the beginning of efforts to ban the procedure and related reproductive health care.

Despite the party’s attempt to control its message, this dynamic is likely to repeat itself. Repealing federal abortion rights returned abortion policy to the states, empowering a wide range of state legislatures and judges to address sensitive questions about the intimate details of conception, pregnancy, and birth.

The Alabama court ruled last week that embryos created through fertility treatments and stored in a medical facility should be considered children under the state’s law regulating harmful death. The decision was relatively narrow and concerned a specific case in which three couples sued a clinic for accidentally dropping and destroying their embryos.

But anti-abortion activists, who have advocated for years for a fertilized egg to be considered a human person, saw the decision as a step forward toward recognizing fetal personhood and even granting equal rights to an embryo under the 14th Amendment.

Jason Rapert, a Republican former Arkansas state lawmaker and president of the National Association of Christian Lawmakers, said his group plans to discuss possible model IVF legislation at its upcoming meeting in June. They are already pushing bills in state legislatures that would declare that life begins at conception.

“We are very happy,” said Mr. Rapert, whose organization actively promotes what it calls “biblical principles” through model legislation. “This decision is really big. It also confirms that life begins at conception.”

Democrats have used Republican divisions to advance their electoral efforts, hoping that restrictions imposed by states will mobilize their voters and turn moderates and independents against Republicans. Vice President Kamala Harris, campaigning in Michigan on Thursday, called the court’s decision “shocking” but “not surprising” given the overturning of Roe v. Wade.

“This is part of their suicide pact,” Gov. Kathy Hochul, Democrat of New York, said of the Alabama ruling. “This is happening in a Republican state with Republican judges. It is now part of the Republican narrative. It’s absolutely baked. They can’t run away from that.”

Nikki Haley, who frequently calls for Republicans to find “consensus” on abortion as part of her presidential campaign, struggled to come to terms with the ruling. On Wednesday, Ms Haley said she believed embryos created through IVF were “babies”, citing her own experience conceiving her son through artificial insemination – a process that does not involve creating embryos outside a woman’s body.

After facing backlash, Ms. Haley clarified her comments hours later, saying she expressed no support for the Alabama ruling.

“Alabama needs to go back and look at the law,” she said in an interview with CNN, framing the case as a question of parental rights, not a question of when life begins. “We don’t want fertility treatments to stop.”

Ms. Haley wasn’t the only one who cited her own experiences with fertility treatments when discussing the ruling. Rep. Michelle Steel, a Republican running for re-election in a suburban Southern California district, said she had difficulty getting pregnant.

“IVF allowed me, like so many others, to raise my family,” said Ms. Steel, who co-sponsored a nationwide abortion ban this Congress. “I believe there is nothing more pro-life than helping families have children, and I do not support federal restrictions on IVF.”

At a forum sponsored by Politico on Thursday, three Republican governors also defended medical treatment.

“There are a lot of people in this country who wouldn’t have children without this,” said Gov. Brian Kemp of Georgia, who signed a law banning abortions starting at six weeks.

Other Republicans tried to avoid the topic altogether. On Thursday, many declined to comment on the ruling, including Speaker Mike Johnson, an evangelical Christian who has put his faith at the center of his politics throughout his career and called abortion “an American holocaust.” His home state of Louisiana has a law that prevents the intentional destruction of embryos.

Republican strategists have advised candidates to shy away from the most aggressive abortion restrictions and avoid longstanding labels like “pro-life,” which they say have become synonymous with an abortion ban. They have also asked candidates to proactively express support for other areas of reproductive health care, including fertility treatments and contraception.

“If we learned anything from the 2022 election, it is that Republican candidates need to clearly articulate their position to voters and not let Democrats define them first,” Steven Law, president of the Senate Leadership Fund, said Super PAC that funds millions of dollars into Republican campaigns.

Dan Conston, president of the Congressional Leadership Fund, the House Republicans’ main super PAC, said it was “useful and important for Republicans in the swing district to show empathy and sympathy and clearly express their support for consensus positions like IVF.” bring to”.

Yet in Congress, a small group of far-right members continue to push for anti-abortion measures that their colleagues in competitive districts want to distance themselves from.

Rep. Byron Donalds, a Republican from Florida, told reporters Thursday at CPAC, a conference of conservative activists, that he believes embryos are children because “embryos grow into adults, just like we do.” But he also said that it “There are women who have chosen this process,” referring to IVF, adding, “And that’s a good thing.”

While polls have shown broad support for abortion rights, there is less data about Americans’ views on fertility treatments. The Pew Research Center found in September that 61 percent of Americans and 54 percent of Republicans believe health insurance should cover the cost of fertility treatments. The services are widely used: 42 percent of Americans said they or someone they know has used some form of fertility treatment to have a child.

Kellyanne Conway, a former top aide to Mr. Trump, distributed a survey her firm conducted to lawmakers from a conservative women’s organization in December that showed a large majority of Americans support IVF. According to a memo summarizing their findings, 85 percent of all respondents supported increasing access to IVF, 78 percent of voters who described themselves as “pro-life” voters, and 83 percent of evangelicals also took this position.

Mike Pence, former vice president and one of the anti-abortion movement’s strongest allies, and his wife Karen have publicly discussed the use of IVF treatments. “I fully support fertility treatments and think they deserve the protection of the law,” he told CBS in 2022 after Roe was overturned.

But for some abortion opponents, any fertility treatment that involves the creation and disposal of embryos should be taboo.

“I can’t name any pro-life group that I know of that would say they agree with the IVF procedure,” said Kristan Hawkins, the president of Students for Life.

Some Democrats saw the ruling as the possibility of a clarifying moment for voters. One of them, Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, said that when she raised concerns about the future of fertility treatments in the immediate aftermath of Roe’s overturn, some of her Republican colleagues dismissed her.

“I said once you take away the protections from Roe, the courts in the states are going to go in a lot of different directions,” she said, “and that’s exactly what happened.”

Nicholas Nehamas contributed reporting from Grand Rapids, Michigan.

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2024-02-24 00:28:53