The Republican disaster on IVF is just beginning

No sooner did a major Alabama hospital pause IVF treatments after a state Supreme Court ruling declared frozen embryos are people than a Republican presidential candidate signaled her alignment with the decision.

“Embryos, to me, are babies,” former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley told NBC News. “When you talk about an embryo, you are talking about, to me, that’s a life. And so I do see where that’s coming from when they talk about that.”

In a subsequent interview, Haley quickly denied endorsing the Alabama decision.

“I didn’t say that I agreed with the Alabama ruling,” Haley told CNN. “I do think that if you look in the definition, an embryo is considered an unborn baby. And so, yes, I believe from my stance that that is. The difference is — and this is what I say about abortion as well — we need to treat these issues with the utmost respect,” she added.

That’s a lot of backpedaling, and for good reason. The ruling—which immediately set off alarm bells among reproductive freedom advocates—is already seeping into the 2024 political environment. 

“When Republicans fought to overturn Roe v. Wade, we knew they wouldn’t stop there. No matter what lies they peddle to voters, we know that the only way to protect our reproductive rights is to vote them out,” Christina Reynolds, senior vice president of communications at EMILY’s List, told Daily Kos following the ruling. 

The National Infertility Association said the ruling would have “profound implications” nationally and “may make it impossible to offer services like IVF.”

Frankly, regardless of how poorly Republicans have played their hand on abortion since the 2022 Supreme Court ruling overturning Roe, they continually find more ways to snatch defeat from the jaws of that supposed victory.

Conservatives’ encroachment on the use of IVF comes at a time when Americans are increasingly relying on it and other fertility treatments such as intrauterine insemination, or IUI, to conceive. According to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention,  IVF accounts for the smallest portion, 2%, of a suite of fertility services they surveyed.

But as the average age of Americans giving birth continues to rise, a Pew Research Center report released last fall found that 42% of U.S. adults report either personally using “fertility treatments” or knowing someone who has. Just five years ago, that number was 9 points lower at 33%.

Here’s the demographic breakdown of people most likely to have used, or know someone who’s used, fertility treatments such as IVF. 

  • Race and ethnicity: White (48%) and Asian (45%) adults are most likely to say they or someone they know have used fertility treatments.

  • Gender: 47% of women have used or know someone who’s used fertility treatments (vs. 37% of men).

  • Income: Upper-income adults, at 59%, are the single biggest demographic group to say they or someone they know have used fertility treatments; 45% of middle-income adults say the same. 

That’s a heck of a lot of suburban women (and men, too) who want to keep their options open when it comes to conceiving. 

Indeed, the very medical treatment Republicans are trying to dismantle is the type of treatment more Americans—particularly white upper-income Americans who are used to doing what they want, when they want, and how they want—are relying on to build their families.

Gee, that seems bad for Republicans. So bad, in fact, that former Donald Trump aide and Republican strategist Kellyanne Conway marched up to Capitol Hill just a few months ago to warn congressional Republicans against going after contraception and fertility treatments. According to Politico, polling conducted by her firm KA Consulting found “massive support” for fertility-related procedures:

85% of all respondents and 86% of women support increasing access to fertility-related procedures and services for individuals facing challenges in conceiving. IVF procedures receive overwhelming support with 86% of all participants and women advocating for access to these fertility treatments.

The survey even found 78% support among pro-life advocates for IVF treatments.

“Candidates for Congress — and certainly those already serving there — can bank significant political currency by advocating for increased access to and availability of contraception and fertility treatments,” Conway’s team wrote in a memo to GOP lawmakers.

Conway had clearly hoped to douse the ground before a five-alarm fire broke out.

Instead, abortion reporter Jessica Valenti writes that mayhem has already erupted in Alabama:

In totally predictable news, the University of Alabama at Birmingham health system has paused IVF procedures in the wake of the ruling, saying they need to make sure that their doctors aren’t criminally prosecuted for providing the standard of care. Meanwhile, IVF patients are hurriedly collecting their frozen embryos and rushing them out-of-state.

It’s no longer hyperbole to say that Republicans are now angling to control every phase of the reproductive process after the Supreme Court opened the floodgates to GOP interference with its 2022 Dobbs decision. From birth control and conception to every health care decision thereafter, Republican intrusion on reproductive freedom is overtaking every aspect of how and when Americans are building their families.

The economy seems to be going great, but lots of voters still say they aren’t feeling it. So how should Democrats deal with this conundrum? On this week’s episode of “The Downballot,” communications consultant Anat Shenker-Osorio tells us that the first step is to reframe the debate, focusing not on “the economy”—an institution many feel is unjust—but rather on voters’ economic well-being. Shenker-Osorio advises Democrats to run on a populist message that emphasizes specifics, like delivering tangible kitchen-table economic benefits and protecting personal liberties, including the right to an abortion.

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