Alabama said frozen embryos are kids. The GOP isn’t sure what to do about it.

IVF — and specifically how to handle unused, frozen embryos — was rarely, if ever, discussed outside of the rightmost fringes of anti-abortion and religious circles.

As Republicans rush to understand what the procedure entails and the ripple effects from the Alabama ruling, conservative leaders warn that a failure to quickly reach a consensus will open up candidates to more attacks from Democrats, who are eager to recycle playbooks from recent electoral successes and paint Republicans as extreme and out of touch with most Americans.

“My best advice for Republicans, if they don’t want to deal with Democrats doing unfair attacks, is to come up with a reasonable policy,” said Terry Schilling, president of the American Principles Project, a right-leaning think tank. “They should come up with what they actually believe and support and stand for, and it should be popular and in line with where the American people want to go.”

The National Republican Senatorial Committee on Friday
released talking points instructing Republicans to voice support for the procedure, a process millions of people who might oppose abortion support and that some, like former Vice President Mike Pence, have used. But they’ve eschewed the thornier details amid private disagreements among those in the anti-abortion movement about whether viable but unimplanted embryos count as life — and, by extension, whether destroying them is tantamount to abortion.

“I’m hearing disagreement among various groups. There’s an attempt to come to a resolution on an agreeable policy for everyone, and in my experience, that’ll never happen,” said a longtime GOP strategist who works with anti-abortion groups, who was granted anonymity because he did not have authorization to speak publicly. “I’ve heard firsthand or secondhand from a number of different House and Senate members, and everybody’s like, ‘What should we be saying right now?’”

Former President Donald Trump, the frontrunner for the Republican nomination, said on Friday that he strongly supports IVF and called on the Alabama legislature to “act quickly to find an immediate solution to preserve the availability of IVF.” Lawmakers in Alabama, including the House speaker, had already said they would do so.

Trump’s unequivocal stance contrasted with that of his primary opponent, former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, who said “embryos … are babies” but waffled on whether she supports the court’s ruling.

Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee said he is “generally supportive of IVF,” framing the procedure as “another very difficult, emotional, personal issue.” Sen. Tommy Tuberville (R-AL), speaking at CPAC Thursday, said he supported the court ruling, though, when pressed about its consequences, he appeared to waver.

But there are also Republican lawmakers inspired by the court’s ruling and anxious to dig into their own laws on IVF and the handling of unused embryos.

“We need to take a new look and go, ‘How do we help people who struggle with fertility, but also how do we ethically put guardrails on that?’” said North Dakota state Sen. Janne Myrdal, who sponsored the state’s near-total abortion ban. “It is a beautiful child created in the image of God. The Alabama case is the beacon of that right now.”

The debate threatens to compound electoral problems for Republicans who have long insisted that access to IVF would not change after the fall of Roe v. Wade and are already struggling to message their anti-abortion views in the first presidential election since that decision.

Kellyanne Conway, Trump’s former senior counselor and campaign manager,
told Congressional Republicans in December that 86 percent of respondents in a poll conducted by her firm KA Consulting, supported access to IVF. Among self-identified “pro-life advocates,” 78 percent, IVF had 78 percent support and it was 83 percent among Evangelical Christians. One in 6 people will struggle with infertility in their lifetime, according to
the National Infertility Association

“We’re struggling for public opinion right now, and IVF is not a great thing to have a conversation about,” said South Carolina state Rep. John McCravy, a Republican who chaired a committee to develop a state abortion ban. “It’s a bad development for the cause of life that this is being challenged in Alabama.”

While Republicans flounder, the left is lambasting the Alabama decision as anti-family and highlighting the decisions by three IVF clinics in the state
to pause procedures amid fears of legal prosecution.

President Joe Biden
on Thursday said the court decision was preventing families who are “desperately trying to get pregnant” from getting the fertility care they need.

“The disregard for women’s ability to make these decisions for themselves and their families is outrageous and unacceptable,” Biden said. “Make no mistake: this is a direct result of the overturning of Roe v. Wade.”

In Alabama, Republican legislative leaders
rushed to propose legislation
to help clinics reopen, alarmed about how access to IVF has been abruptly curtailed since the state Supreme Court decision. One of those bills, from the Republican chair of the state’s health committee, would clarify that embryos created through IVF are only considered “potential life” and do not count as “human life” until implanted into the uterus.

“Alabamians strongly believe in protecting the rights of the unborn, but the result of the state Supreme Court ruling denies many couples the opportunity to conceive, which is a direct contradiction,” said Alabama House Speaker Nathaniel Ledbetter, a Republican.

That’s in line with how some other conservative-led states have handled the issue of extra embryos. After the Dobbs decision, Tennessee’s Republican Attorney General Jonathan Skrmetti issued an opinion stating that while the state’s abortion law considers an embryo an “unborn child,” it does
not prohibit its disposal
unless it is “living … within a woman’s body.”

Still, Tennessee Republican state Sen. Richard Briggs said the Alabama decision sparked new conversations about IVF at the statehouse this week. He said that six or seven lawmakers who gathered informally for coffee Thursday morning all felt the court decision had gone “too far.”

“That’s really terrible what’s happened down in Alabama,” said Briggs, who is a heart and lung surgeon. “One of the basic rights that a couple has, or that a woman has, is the right to bear children.”

But in other statehouses, including in North Dakota, Missouri and West Virginia, lawmakers have been inspired by the Alabama ruling and are looking at how they might be able to tighten their state’s laws governing frozen embryos while still remaining supportive of IVF. In Louisiana, for instance,
state law prohibits
the disposal of any viable embryos.

“I’m excited about this ruling,” said Missouri Republican state Sen. Denny Hoskins, who said he is considering what legislation he might put forward. “There’s folks out there that have trouble getting pregnant and have used IVF and other fertility drugs and procedures to try to get pregnant, and we certainly are sympathetic toward them. But we obviously have to realize that life begins at conception, so these embryos are a life.”

It’s a position that some conservative groups, like Concerned Women for America, are embracing.

“If you’re not willing to implant them,” said Penny Nance, the organization’s president and CEO, “then I don’t think that you should create them.”

Alice Miranda Ollstein contributed to this report.

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