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Democrats Go on Offense as IVF Leaves Republicans Vulnerable

(Bloomberg) -- Democrats have seized on access to IVF as a key vulnerability for the GOP ahead of November elections, even as Republicans rush to defend their positions on the popular practice.

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With relentless attacks in battleground states, Democrats and abortion rights groups are tying Republicans — in races from state houses to the White House — to the political fallout from a February Alabama Supreme Court ruling that halted much of the in-vitro fertilization in that state.

President Joe Biden welcomed an Alabama woman whose IVF treatments were stalled to the State of the Union Thursday. The first American conceived through IVF was also in the room, a guest of Virginia’s Senator Tim Kaine.

Around the country, Democratic candidates are releasing ads featuring smiling babies and happy families. The Democratic National Committee has splashed signs across battleground states including Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Michigan, Nevada, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin. The billboards read: “Banning Abortion, Stopping IVF. Is (each state) Next?”

Republicans are especially exposed on the issue in crucial suburban battlegrounds like Pennsylvania, Arizona and Georgia whose voters could decide who wins the White House and controls both the House and Senate.

Arizona and Georgia have abortion bans with “personhood” statutes that protect embryos from the time of fertilization with exclusions for those created through IVF, although Arizona’s is on hold while being challenged in federal court. Both states also have conservative state supreme courts, giving Democrats more ammunition on the issue there.

“This is one of the biggest issues that is motivating voters — women, men, all genders,” said Dan Kalik, head of politics and strategy Swing Left, which focuses on supporting Democrats in battleground states. “It’s motivating volunteers, and it’s going to play out huge in all the core states that are needed for Democrats to win up and down the ballot.”

Fertility treatments like IVF, in which embryos are made in a lab before being transferred to a woman, are overwhelmingly popular, despite being controversial for some religious conservatives. In the US about 2.3% of all infants are conceived using assisted reproductive technologies, like IVF, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The technology has long been tied up in the fight over abortion, and some Republicans argue for various limits on IVF — like banning sex selection, or even outlawing it completely — arguing the resulting embryos should be protected as children.

But access to IVF is much more broadly supported than abortion, including among conservatives. Republican pollster Kellyanne Conway, who ran former President Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign, said she found 78% of anti-abortion voters and 83% of evangelical voters support access to fertility-related procedures and services.

Accordingly, Republican lawmakers and candidates rushed to express their support for IVF. The day after Alabama’s ruling, the National Republican Senatorial Committee urged Republicans to defend IVF — and they did.

Trump, who is on the cusp of clinching the Republican presidential nomination, quickly urged Alabama’s legislature to protect the availability of IVF.

Arizona Republican Senate candidate Kari Lake said in a statement released right after the ruling, “IVF is extremely important for helping countless families experience the joy of parenthood. I oppose restrictions.”

But even with the rapid response to the Alabama ruling, the GOP is sure to be dogged by the issue well into the election year as fights over personhood play out.

Reproductive rights were already going to be a hot issue in Arizona this year with supporters fighting to get a initiative onto the ballot that would put abortion rights into the state’s constitution.

According to the Center for Reproductive Rights, there are 13 states that have personhood bills currently moving through their legislatures that would afford various levels of protection to embryos.

The lengthy court battles and ongoing uncertainty will keep the issue on voters’ minds.

“What happens in this region tends to go from state to state,” said Darren Hutchinson, a law professor and the John Lewis Chair for Civil Rights and Social Justice at Emory University. “So I think if any state in this area is going to try to distance itself or make sure that they downplay this ruling, it’ll definitely be Georgia, and I can see Arizona doing the same thing because they are like a purple type state too.”

The margins in both states are razor thin. Biden won Georgia by just 0.2 percentage points and Arizona by 0.3 percentage points four years ago.

Reproductive issues have bedeviled Republicans in elections across the board since 2022, when the US Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, allowing states to limit abortion and other reproductive technology. The party has struggled to craft a message that appeals both to the religious conservatives in their base who back restrictions and to the wider public.

“Republicans have real vulnerabilities on the broader issue. This magnifies them again,” aid Douglas Heye, a GOP strategist. “The party certainly understands the impact that this could have.”

Dozens of GOP lawmakers had previously cosigned a national personhood bill which defines life as starting at fertilization with no exceptions for IVF. Speaker Mike Johnson, while cheering IVF as a tool for building families, said the issue should remain with states and declined to clarify whether he considered the destruction of embryos murder in an interview with CBS.

And GOP senators blocked a Democrat-led effort to protect in-vitro fertilization shortly after the Alabama ruling, saying the measure was too broad.

Lawmakers in Alabama on Wednesday passed a measure that would offer some immunity from wrongful death lawsuits for doctors who offer IVF, allowing most procedures to go forward in that state. But its scope is unclear and untested, leaving open the question of whether providers will continue to operate in that state over the longterm.

--With assistance from Madlin Mekelburg, Gregory Korte and Steven T. Dennis.

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