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Alabama IVF ruling spurs a GOP reckoning on conception bills

Republicans back in vitro fertilization as Democrats criticize House GOP bill that would define life beginning at conception

Rep. Michelle Steel, R-Calif., arrives for the House Republicans’ caucus meeting at the Capitol Hill Club in Washington on May 23, 2023.
Rep. Michelle Steel, R-Calif., arrives for the House Republicans’ caucus meeting at the Capitol Hill Club in Washington on May 23, 2023. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

The split over how states should handle fertility treatments could force some abortion opponents in Congress to reckon with their support of long-standing abortion bills.

The Alabama Supreme Court’s Feb. 16 ruling that frozen embryos used in in vitro fertilization or IVF are humans has ignited a firestorm over how to address personhood laws in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court’s Dobbs decision, and pushed Republicans to move quickly to keep the issue from spurring a maelstrom.

Alabama officials have since said they intend to act to protect the procedure. Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey, a Republican, said she would support state measures aimed at protecting access to the procedure, and Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall said the decision would not be used to prosecute families or IVF providers.

On Friday, former President Donald Trump echoed their sentiments and called on Alabama legislators to protect IVF access. He also backed IVF access  “in every State in America.” 

On the federal level, IVF and other fertility treatments have received less attention than the debate over regulating abortion or contraception. But as recently as last year, 124 House Republicans including Speaker Mike Johnson, R-La., co-sponsored a bill that would define life as beginning at conception.

The bill from Rep. Alex X. Mooney, R-W.Va., would grant equal protection under the 14th Amendment at fertilization — or the union of a sperm and egg. 

Traditionally, pregnancy has been considered as beginning at the point when the fertilized egg has been implanted in the uterus. In IVF, fertilization occurs outside of the human body.

The Senate version of this legislation, last introduced by Rand Paul, R-Ky., specifically includes a clause specifying that the bill should not be construed as “a prohibition on in vitro fertilization.” Paul has not reintroduced the bill since January 2021, prior to the June 2022 Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization ruling that overturned Roe v. Wade.

Versions of the bill have been regularly introduced since 2004, when it was first introduced by former Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla. Prior versions of the Senate bill did not include the IVF language until 2016.

The House versions have never included IVF provisions.

Polling has widely been supportive of IVF even among those who identify as evangelical Christian or “pro-life.”

The National Republican Senatorial Committee issued a memo Friday telling candidates that “when responding to the Alabama Supreme Court ruling, it is imperative that our candidates align with the public’s overwhelming support for IVF and fertility treatments.”

The memo states none of their Senate candidates support restricting fertility treatments.

In the House, some Republicans have also begun to distance themselves from IVF critiques — including those that back the House conception bill in its current form without language protecting the right to have IVF.

Rep. Michelle Steel, R-Calif., who co-sponsors the House bill, tweeted her support for protecting IVF on Thursday.

“As someone who struggled to get pregnant, I believe all life is a gift. IVF allowed me, as it has so many others, to start my family. I believe there is nothing more pro-life than helping families have children, and I do not support federal restrictions on IVF,” she wrote.

Rep. Nancy Mace, R-S.C., and David Schweikert, R-Ariz., who co-sponsored previous versions of the bill, also issued support for protecting the procedure.

Democrats have capitalized on the ruling. President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris have bashed the ruling from both the White House and through their reelection campaign, and White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre issued a memo Monday highlighting House Republicans’ support for the bill.

Meanwhile, Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chair Suzan DelBene told press Monday that House Republicans have continued to sign on to the bill as recently as two weeks ago.

Speaking on the same call, Reproductive Freedom for All President and CEO Mini Timmaraju said her group is pleased with Biden’s response and expects to hear something in the State of the Union on the issue.

“This is a mainstream position of the GOP, no matter how much they try to hide that,” she said. “This is in so much of the work and the background work of the allies and the leaders of these states.”

The House Majority PAC, which supports Democrats, issued a memo Friday calling out 11 vulnerable Republicans who supported the House bill, saying it can “guarantee that their support will be used against them over paid media in competitive House districts across the country this fall.”

“House Republicans have made clear they will stop at nothing – including outlawing in vitro fertilization – to reach their ultimate goal: banning abortion and restricting reproductive rights nationwide,” DCCC spokesperson Courtney Rice told CQ Roll Call Friday.

“Their anti-family agenda, which elevates these dangerously out-of-touch positions into the mainstream, will cost them their majority this fall.”   

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