GOP seeks to distance itself from consequences of Alabama frozen embryo decision

The Alabama Supreme Court ruling that frozen embryos are children is putting Republicans in a bind, forcing them to distance themselves from some of the decision’s sweeping consequences.

Three fertility clinics in Alabama, including the state’s largest health system, have paused in vitro fertilization (IVF) treatments in the wake of the shock ruling.

It has put GOP politicians who oppose abortion rights but back IVF in a complicated position, forcing them to awkwardly explain why they may disagree with a ruling even as some of them say they believe embryos are babies.

And it all comes as the GOP has largely been playing defense on the political field since the Supreme Court overturned the Roe v. Wade decision, which led a number of states to impose severe restrictions on access to an abortion.

Republicans have repeatedly been on the losing side of elections with abortion on the ballot ever since. President Biden’s campaign is expected to make abortion a central part of its messaging this fall, an approach likely to be copied by Senate and House candidates around the country.

GOP presidential candidate Nikki Haley reflected the awkward position for Republicans on Wednesday when she told NBC she supported the decision and thought that frozen embryos made using IVF are “babies.”

A few hours later, Haley seemed to walk back her initial comment.

“I didn’t say that I agreed with the Alabama ruling,” Haley told CNN, but she added she still believes “an embryo is an unborn baby.”

On Thursday Haley told CNN she believed the court ruled correctly under state law, but “Alabama needs to go back and look at the law.”

Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.), who is being talked about as a potential running mate for former President Trump, evaded the question.

“Well, I haven’t studied the issue,” Scott told reporters Thursday in South Carolina before taking a jab at Haley.

“I’m gonna let Nikki Haley continue to go back and forth on that,” Scott told reporters. 

At the Conservative Political Action Conference in Maryland on Thursday, Sen. Tommy Tuberville (R-Ala.) said he thinks an embryo is a child, but he also seemed confused as to what the decision even was.

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

Veteran GOP strategist and former Republican National Committee spokesperson Doug Heye said hard-line conservatives found themselves “in a box,” just like after the ruling overturning Roe v. Wade was leaked.

“If people haven’t gone through [IVF], they don’t understand it. Most United States Senators haven’t, and if you’re a Republican one — Tuberville is obviously a good example — they just shoot from the hip with their answers, and that gets them in trouble,” Heye said.

In an attempt to wrest control of the narrative, the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC) on Friday told candidates to express their support for IVF, oppose restrictions on the treatment and campaign on expanding access to it.

“It is imperative that our candidates align with the public’s overwhelming support for IVF and fertility treatments,” the NRSC said, calling the ruling “fodder for Democrats hoping to manipulate the abortion issue for electoral gain.”

After the statement, several GOP candidates and congressional Republicans issued public statements in favor of IVF.

“IVF is extremely important for helping countless families experience the joy of parenthood. I oppose restrictions,” said Kari Lake, a Trump-endorsed Republican running for Senate in Arizona.

Dave McCormick, a GOP Senate candidate in Pennsylvania, said on X, the platform formerly known as Twitter, that “IVF is a ray of hope for millions of Americans seeking the blessing of children,” adding he opposes “any effort to restrict it.”

Bernie Moreno, a Trump-backed candidate in Ohio, said as recently as Thursday that he thinks life begins at conception. On Friday, he said that IVF aligns with his “pro-life” views but stopped short of saying the Alabama decision was wrong or opposing efforts to restrict IVF.

“My goal is to promote a culture of life. IVF is a vital tool for families that struggle with infertility. I’m in favor of anything that promotes people having more babies & strong families,” Moreno wrote on X.

Rep. David Schweikert (R-Ariz.), who previously co-sponsored a “fetal personhood” House bill that said life begins at conception, said on X that he would oppose efforts to restrict IVF. “IVF is a valuable and important tool for many Arizona families,” Schweikert wrote.

Many Republican candidates, including former President Trump and Haley, have tried to walk a tightrope on abortion and convince voters they support a moderate position that imposes some restrictions but won’t completely ban the procedure.

Trump on Friday voiced support for preserving access to IVF treatments.

“Under my leadership, the Republican Party will always support the creation of strong, thriving, healthy American families. We want to make it easier for mothers and fathers to have babies, not harder! That includes supporting the availability of fertility treatments like IVF in every State in America,” Trump wrote on his social media platform Truth Social.

“Today, I am calling on the Alabama Legislature to act quickly to find an immediate solution to preserve the availability of IVF in Alabama,” he added.

Sens. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.) and Patty Murray (D-Wash.) and Rep. Susan Wild (D-Pa.) in January introduced legislation to provide a federal right to IVF. No Republicans have signed on to the Senate version.

The House bill initially had one GOP co-sponsor, Rep. Anna Paulina Luna (R-Fla.). After publication of this story, a spokesman for Rep. Paulina Luna said she was added as a co-sponsor to the House IVF protection bill without her permission, and intends to remove her name as soon as possible.”

Eric Johnston, president of the Alabama Pro-Life Coalition and author of several of the state’s anti-abortion bills, said the state high court decision highlights the need for more regulation on IVF in Alabama.

“I think IVF has a place in medicine. I think it’s a good thing. It helps couples who can’t have children otherwise,” he said.

This story was updated at 10:32 a.m.

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