Opposition to IVF Has Entered the GOP Mainstream

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There was a time when Republicans said they were very supportive of in vitro fertilization. That time was late February.

The Alabama Supreme Court had just ruled that frozen embryos are considered children under state law—and that their destruction could bring murder charges. The decision prompted several IVF providers in the state to pause services and left Republican politicians scrambling.

It took a few days, but Donald Trump proclaimed his support for IVF in a Truth Social post. Republicans working to elect GOP senators publicly urged those candidates to support IVF. A poll conducted after the Alabama decision showed why: 86 percent of Americans support the fertility procedure. Even Alabama backtracked, enacting legislation that protected IVF clinics.

Evangelical leaders took Alabama’s anti-IVF ruling as an opening to push forward.

That was then. But now, just a few months later, Republican opposition to IVF is popping up everywhere. In North Carolina, as my colleague Abby Vesoulis was the first to report, the state GOP platform opposes “the destruction of human embryos.” It’s not the first time the party’s platform has said this, but it is the first time it has done so in the post-Roe era, when access to IVF is imperiled. Creating embryos for implantation often leads to embryos that are not viable, that carry a genetic disease, or simply a greater number than a couple can use. Banning their destruction would make IVF much more difficult logistically and financially.

Last week, in Idaho—where, under a strict abortion ban, hospitals airlift women out of state for emergency care—Republicans followed North Carolina’s suit, adding to their platform opposition to the “destruction of human embryos.”

And in Washington, some Senate Republicans have joined the fray. “There are so many embryos created and frozen that are then abandoned, that becomes an issue for someone—just a moral, ethical issue,” Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.) told NOTUS, explaining new legislation he’s cosponsoring. While not explicitly anti-IVF, the so-called RESTORE Act pushes the use of “Restorative Reproductive Medicine”—a suite of therapies promoted by the religious right as an alternative to IVF that lack sound scientific backing.

The doctors who push these therapies, which include surgery, argue that women and other doctors overuse IVF. “IVF is a really expensive last resort and there’s so much before that,” Lankford explained—a bizarre and condescending point that assumes that someone who has turned to the expensive and difficult process of IVF didn’t first test her hormone levels or check for fibroids.

Senate Republicans have also blocked the Right to IVF Act, a bill put forward by Democrats, as they claimed it was as a political stunt and denied that IVF access is threatened—even as elements of their own party declare their opposition. Republican Sens. Ted Cruz of Texas and Katie Britt of Alabama proposed an alternative measure, blocked by Democrats, that aims to protect IVF by withholding Medicaid funding from any state that bans it.

As the dueling bills were put forward, one of the GOP’s biggest constituencies, the Southern Baptist Convention, announced its opposition to IVF. The vote by America’s largest protestant denomination to oppose IVF signals that American evangelicals, a critical and influential part of the Republican coalition, are embracing an extreme position of fetal personhood. If Republican strategists saw the opposition to Alabama’s IVF ruling as a warning sign and urged backing away, many evangelical leaders have taken the ruling as an opening to push forward in their fight against IVF.

Whereas Lankford’s bill encourages women with infertility to check for fibroids, the Southern Baptist Convention suggests they check in with a higher power. “Couples who experience the searing pain of infertility can turn to God, look to Scripture for numerous examples of infertility, and know that their lament is heard by the Lord, who offers compassion and grace to those deeply afflicted by such realities,” the denomination’s anti-IVF resolution reads.

Neither the Baptist position nor the local state parties turning against IVF are truly out of step with Republicans in Washington. House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.), the highest ranking Republican in the country, has explicitly encouraged state lawmakers to examine the issue. “If you do believe that life begins at conception, it’s a really important question to wrestle with,” he said in March. “It’s something that every state has to wrestle with.”

When it comes to reproductive rights, there’s a time-tested two-step among anti-abortion proponents. First, they claim to oppose a radical position. Then, a short time later, they embrace it, and push the bounds of acceptable argument further and further. For example, Erin Hawley, an attorney at the Alliance Defending Freedom, the Christian legal group behind multiple anti-abortion and anti-LGBTQ lawsuits, testified before Congress that the Supreme Court decision overturning Roe v. Wade did not imperil emergency medical care for pregnant women. But not long after, she aided Idaho in a lawsuit, which the Supreme Court will soon decide, defending the state’s post-Roe push to deny women abortion care in medical emergencies.

Another example are abortion ban exceptions for rape and incest. In 2012, two Republican Senate candidates said they opposed abortion even in the case of rape. Mitt Romney, running for president, disavowed the idea, as did most of the GOP. Today, 10 states ban abortion even in cases of rape and incest. It sounded outrageous, until it was reality.

When it comes to IVF, the two-step appears to be happening at a breakneck pace, with elements of the Republican party declaring support for the procedure at the same time that more extreme elements are already opposing it. Restricting IVF sounds outrageous, but it doesn’t mean it can’t become reality.