Republicans under scrutiny for supporting conception bill in wake of Alabama IVF ruling

Republicans who expressed support for in vitro fertilization in the wake of the controversial Alabama Supreme Court ruling are coming under scrutiny for also backing legislation that declares human life begins at conception, without an exception for IVF — two positions that appear to be at odds with one another, in the latest example of Republicans struggling to thread the needle on reproductive rights issues.

The Life at Conception Act – which was introduced in January 2023 by GOP Rep. Alex Mooney of West Virginia and has 125 total Republican sponsors in the House, including House Speaker Mike Johnson – defines the term “human being” to include “all stages of life, including the moment of fertilization, cloning, or other moment at which an individual member of the human species comes into being.”

The bill does not include a carveout for IVF, though it does state that nothing in the bill should “be construed to authorize the prosecution of any woman for the death of her unborn child.”

However, a Senate version of the bill — which was last introduced back in 2021 — makes an explicit exception for IVF.

That measure, sponsored by GOP Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, says, “Nothing in this Act shall be construed to require the prosecution of any woman for the death of her unborn child, a prohibition on in vitro fertilization, or a prohibition on use of birth control or another means of preventing fertilization.”

After the Alabama Supreme Court decided frozen embryos used in IVF are children and those who destroy them can be held liable for wrongful death, a number of Republicans raced to distance themselves from the ruling and made crystal clear they support fertility treatments.

But Democrats say that is incongruous with the House GOP legislation defining life as beginning at conception. Under that bill, equal protections under the 14th Amendment would be granted at the moment of “fertilization” — regardless of whether the union of sperm and egg occurs inside the body, which is what happens in a traditional pregnancy, or outside the body, which is the case with IVF.

It does not include an outright ban on IVF, but Democrats and reproductive rights activists worry the legislation — if ever passed — would have a chilling effect on IVF clinics, much like the Alabama ruling, given the typical process for IVF.

GOP Rep. Michelle Steel of California, who represents a Biden-won swing district, was one of the Republicans who came out quickly on social media to express support for IVF and share her own struggles with infertility. She also said she opposes any federal restrictions on the procedure.

But Steel is also a co-sponsor of the Life at Conception Act — which Democrats have been quick to point out. Steel’s office has not yet returned a request for comment on how she squares those two positions, nor have other House Republicans who expressed support for IVF while being co-sponsors of the House bill.

In the meantime, Democrats are looking to capitalize on the issue.

The House Majority PAC, a super PAC aligned with House Democrats, blasted out a memo Friday highlighting several vulnerable Republicans, including two former members, who supported the Life at Conception Act, while the Biden-Harris campaign account on X has also posted about the House GOP’s support of the bill.

And on Monday, the House Democrats’ campaign arm convened a press call with Reproductive Freedom for All to further hammer House Republicans over the issue.

“House Republicans continue to further their agenda to control women’s bodies and women’s choices at every turn, including legislation that would double down on the Alabama court’s ruling by banning both IVF and abortion nationwide,” Rep. Suzan DelBene, the chair of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, said on the call.

She added, “The DCCC remains fully committed to supporting candidates who will stand up for our freedoms and our families and holding Republicans accountable for doing the opposite with their extreme anti-abortion stances.”

Rep. Don Bacon of Nebraska, a swing district Republican, co-sponsored the Life at Conception Act in previous years, but told CNN he chose not to support the bill during this session of Congress because he wanted it to include more specific language to clear up misconceptions about the legislation. But the bill’s author declined to modify the measure, Bacon said. CNN has reached out to Mooney who originally introduced the legislation.

Still, Bacon argued the purpose of the bill is not to ban IVF, despite Democrats claiming otherwise.

“The author’s intent was not to restrict abortions or IVF, but rather to be a statement of principle,” Bacon said. “Seeing how the Dems distorted the bill last election, I asked that the bill be more carefully written to preclude confusion or distortion. The author opted not to modify the language so I didn’t get on this bill this Congress.”

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