After Roe, IVF Is Republicans’ Next Beware-Of-What-You-Wish-For Dilemma

WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS, W. VA. — House Speaker Mike Johnson’s (R-La.) answer started simply enough.

Asked at an annual party retreat if Congress needed to “put its mark” on the debate over reproductive rights in light of the recent Alabama judicial decision equating destroyed frozen embryos with wrongful deaths, Johnson said the states, rather than the federal government, should decide what protections embryos should receive.

“It’s not my belief that Congress needs to play a role here,” he said. He said that states were handling IVF regulation well — even though the Alabama decision interrupted treatments and caused chaos for patients and clinics.

But almost as quickly, Johnson pivoted to praising vitro fertilization, in which the egg is fertilized outside of the womb.

“We support access to IVF,” Johnson said of Republicans, before saying he and his wife knew “many families” created through the procedure.

Johnson left unresolved the inherent tension between his belief, expressed in a bill he’s co-sponsored, that life begins at conception with the idea that IVF access was “something we ought to protect and preserve.”

And he also didn’t address the tension between the notion that the states should decide how to regulate IVF and the idea that discarding an embryo is, at least to Alabama’s high court, equivalent to ending the life of a child.

The back-and-forth answer to a simple question illustrated the dilemma Republicans face on IVF: They could champion IVF, even though the process often sees some embryos get destroyed or go unused, and side with public opinion; or chart the more radical course seemingly demanded by longstanding GOP rhetoric insisting life begins at conception, which would mean IVF should be available on a state-by-state basis, or not at all.

In an Economist/YouGov poll taken in late February, 67% of respondents said they favored keeping IVF legal and 33% said they personally knew someone — themselves, a family member or a friend — who had used the technique.

And only 21% said embryos that are not implanted during IVF should be considered children, versus 50% who said they should not.

Democrats have gleefully watched Republicans try to work out the issue in public, much as they have had to do on abortion restrictions in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court’s Dobbs decision to overturn Roe v. Wade.

Voters see through these fake attempts at moderation for what vulnerable House Republicans really are: extremists who want to involve themselves in the personal decisions of families across the country,” the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee wrote in a memo earlier this month. “Voters saw this in Virginia, Kansas, Ohio, New York, and in every election since Roe v. Wade was overturned. And voters will see through vulnerable House Republicans’ political stunts this November.”

Republicans have tried various ways to defuse the issue.

Some House Republicans have signed on to resolutions extolling the value of IVF. But those resolutions would not actually do anything to protect the procedure.

Rep. Michelle Steel (R-Calif.) took her name off of a House bill declaring life begins at conception. Rep. Anna Paulina Luna (R-Fla.) said Thursday she was introducing a bill to specifically protect IVF.

After a session behind closed doors at the retreat to discuss how to message on the issue, though, Republicans appeared to have landed on a strategy emphasizing supporting IVF while also not backing away from being “pro-life,” and arguing that being “pro-life” and supporting IVF are not incompatible, despite some anti-abortion groups disagreeing.

In other words, pretty much what Johnson said.

“Being pro life does not mean just focusing on abortion,” said Rep. Ashley Hinson (R-Iowa).

Asked the same question that Johnson was asked on whether there is a role for Congress in protecting IVF, Hinson said: “I think there are some things that are definitely being clarified in states right now, similar to happened in Alabama. But again, I think overwhelmingly — I heard it in that room today — our conference supports IVF. We support options to make sure people can grow and expand their families.”

Asked directly if support for IVF and states’ authority to regulate it and the belief that life begins at conception are incompatible, Hinson acknowledged the answer is a work in progress at best.

“The consensus in there is that we’re all pro-life and we want to have as many people expand their families and grow their families as possible,” she said. “So that is going to continue to be our Republican conference position.”