Republicans Increasingly Reveal They Barely Know Where Babies Come From

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The floodgates opened on Friday as every Republican got the memo that they needed to be loud and proud about the party’s recently discovered support for in-vitro fertilization treatment, a common form of reproductive health care that was, apparently, not much thought about by today’s anti-abortion movement — at least until the Dobbs ruling opened a window for the Alabama Supreme Court to declare embryos “babies” earlier this month.

This month’s decision out of Alabama — which found that embryos are children and have the same rights in wrongful death suits — has stoked panic about the future of IVF treatment in Alabama and across the country post-Roe. But it has also unearthed yet another layer of how deeply Republicans do not understand how reproduction and reproductive care work.

Republicans in the House, Senate, on the campaign trail and in governor’s mansions across the U.S. have struggled to both declare support for the underlying fetal personhood ideology at the core of the Alabama ruling — that embryos have “life” and are “babies” — and, also, support for IVF in the past week, just as they’ve struggled since the Dobbs ruling to figure out what to say about its cascading, far-ranging impacts for health care, including for those patients who have had a miscarriage.

Anyone who has gone through standard fertility treatment in the modern era, or knows someone who has, has a passing understanding that when embryos are formed in a lab, some are viable and some are not viable. Further, it is normal for medical professionals to attempt to create more than one viable embryo when going through the IVF process with a patient as the creation of one viable embryo does not always guarantee successful implantation. That means that some unused viable embryos are destroyed or frozen as part of the process. It’s really expensive to freeze embryos for long periods of time and getting the treatments covered by insurance can be a total nightmare.

That’s why the Alabama ruling has already had a chilling effect in the state, as clinics pause IVF patient care until it is more clear how they can proceed without risking prosecution.

The problem is, a bunch of Republicans followed in Nikki Haley’s (mis)footsteps and seized on the rather extreme Alabama court ruling — declaring their vague agreement with the idea that embryos are “babies” — without having a firm grasp on what that means for IVF. Many of them sidestepped questions by saying they hadn’t read the ruling or the “bill” without making the seemingly more honest confession that they didn’t really know what they were talking about, at all. Then the shift began, with a wave of defensive statements about how important it is for families to have access to the treatments for growing “Beautiful Babies,” as Donald Trump put it. By Friday afternoon, Alabama lawmakers announced they’d craft legislation to protect in vitro in the state.

Yet over the weekend, Republicans continued to reveal how little they know about the procedure. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, for example, was completely tripped up by a question from CNN’s Dana Bash, who simply asked: “Are you saying that families in Texas who are using IVF, have extra embryos that are frozen, do not need to worry?”

“Well so you raise fine questions that are complex, that I simply don’t know the answer to. Let me give you a couple examples and that is, uh, I have no idea mathematically the number of frozen embryos,” he stumbled. “Is it one, 10, 100, 1,000? Things like that matter.

“These are very complex issues where, I’m not sure everybody is really thought about what all the potential problems are and as a result, no one really knows what the potential answers are,” he continued, prompting CNN’s Kasie Hunt to make this face in response to the exchange:

The waterfall of Republican statements of support for unrestricted IVF have also triggered a wave of news articles pointing out the GOP’s hypocrisy on the issue, specifically the hypocrisy of House Republicans who sponsored or supported the Life at Conception Act, which was introduced in January 2023.

The bill, which is languishing in the House, is sponsored by 125 House Republicans. It defines a “human being” to “include each member of the species homo sapiens at all stages of life, including the moment of fertilization or cloning, or other moment at which an individual member of the human species comes into being.” It also defines the right to life under the 14th Amendment as being for “each born and preborn human person.” It includes no language or provisions for IVF or other forms of reproductive care.

House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-LA), who released his own statement of unequivocal support for IVF, is among the co-sponsors.

Again, this bill was introduced just 13 months ago! It has 125 co-sponsors — much of the House Republican conference!

Big picture, the Republican squirming is revealing of something we have been reminded of repeatedly since the high court overturned Roe in 2022: the people trying to set policy to curb reproductive rights have a rather limp grasp on the basic mechanics of how babies are made.

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