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The Coming Clash Between Republicans vs. Hardliners On IVF

Behind the scenes, the battle lines are being drawn. Will it break the party? One TAC Contributing Editor shares her perspective.

Montgomery,,Alabama,,Usa,-,July,4,,2022:,Protesters,Marched,In

Nearly two weeks ago, the Supreme Court of Alabama ruled that human embryos are human. The ruling was consistent with existing Alabama law, to say nothing of natural law and divine law, and therefore, naturally, caused a ruckus. Following the ruling, the Republican Speaker of the House Mike Johnson and 125 of his colleagues in the lower chamber cosponsored a bill to echo the Alabama ruling in the national legislature: Human embryos are human, and cannot be discarded or destroyed at will. Immediately, several prominent Republicans, including Donald Trump, made a point of opposing their own party’s triumph. 

By Friday, the National Republican Senatorial Committee had issued a press release condemning the ruling and urged senatorial candidates to do the same. In short order, Arizona’s Kari Lake obliged, writing that “IVF is extremely important for helping countless families experience the joy of parenthood. I oppose restrictions.” Donald Trump echoed the sentiment on Truth Social. Nikki Haley, the GOP’s also-ran 2024 presidential candidate, said that, while she personally agrees that human embryos are human, the State of Alabama may need to reconsider its laws.

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Since these politicians appear to have already forgotten, it is worth noting that the opinion of the Alabama Supreme Court was not that IVF is, or even should be, illegal. The ruling treated consistency: If you make legal persons, you have to treat them as legal persons in all cases, not just when it is convenient to you. The Wrongful Death of a Minor Act, passed into Alabama law in 1872, was interpreted in 2011 to include unborn embryos. Eight of the nine Supreme Court justices agreed that includes those embryos stored in freezers as well as the ones in utero. The vital detail here, of course, is how the frozen embryos come to be killed: A routine IVF procedure typically includes destroying as many as half of the created embryos, whether due to defects, accidents, or the high price of storage. It is true, if it was not the point of the court, that banning embryo destruction does ban many of the practices of IVF clinics.

Nevertheless, what is interesting in all of this is not simply how Republicans have willfully misdirected the conversation since the Alabama ruling, but that they feel so very threatened by the possibility of an ethical limit on assisted reproduction techniques. Clearly, they perceive their voters, their donors, or both, have an interest in keeping IVF unregulated. 

Any proposal that looks like it makes life harder for infertile couples is politically suicidal. Popular support for IVF today includes more than heterosexual couples struggling to conceive, however, since the LGBT movement has sought to normalize every possible combination of persons under the word “family.” To limit the baby-making industry is to give hard answers to those who would like a chicken in every pot and a baby in every lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender arm. The latter group does not comprise the majority of Republicans, but it does include several of them. Then there are the others: Women who delay childbearing are no longer a left-only phenomena. Sometimes the delay is intentional for the sake of career advancement, some of it a fallout of the battle between the sexes; much of it is tragic, but all of it is promised a solution in artificial reproduction. 

This is why Republicans are so flustered that human embryos should be legally defined as human. It is not merely because the concept of life beginning at conception sounds vaguely familiar to them, and they are wondering if they have heard of it before. It is because the number of men and women for whom IVF is desirable is several multiples of what it was just a few years ago, and growing. The $14 billion dollar fertility industry, in many ways the necessary corollary to the abortion industry, exists to make its fortune off those who cannot have children. It is projected to be worth $129 billion before the decade is up.

Both of these cohorts, those who freeze their eggs and those who buy the frozen eggs and sperm of others, are evidence of our modern approach to children as accessories. When I said as much on Twitter over the weekend, a few responders balked: Who wants a child as an accessory? Of course, that is precisely the point: Like any accessory, the decision to have children today boils down to mere personal preference. “Do you want children?” is wholly separate from the question of marriage, and the answer can now be affirmative even if you are a 45-year-old single woman or, much more concerningly, a transgender pedophile. Neither is possible without IVF. In order to separate childbearing from the role of women, it had to be separated from marriage, too. When you begin smashing delicate things, there is no telling what you might break.

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