Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp Said He’s Open to Restricting IVF in Leaked Audio

But his campaign spokesman said he wouldn't support such a bill. Who's lying?

Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp Said He’s Open to Restricting IVF in Leaked Audio
Photo:Joe Raedle (Getty Images)

Buried in an Atlanta Journal-Constitution preview of Friday’s Georgia Senate debate (which, yes, was a shitshow), was an alarming tidbit about Gov. Brian Kemp (R). At a campaign stop in Blakely, Georgia, the man who signed the state’s active six-week abortion ban said he’d be open a statewide ban on destroying embryos created for in-vitro fertilization (IVF). That makes Kemp the second Republican in recent days, after New Hampshire Senate nominee Don Bolduc, to suggest they’d move to limit IVF. Bolduc called embryo destruction “a disgusting practice” that we need to do something about.

In a one-minute audio clip provided to the AJC, a man who claimed to be a Kemp supporter asked the governor whether he would support a “statewide ban on the destruction of embryos.” Another person, possibly a Kemp staffer, said “this is just now starting to become a conversation” and that the legislature might consider it as part of a bill the future.

Kemp jumped in to say it seemed somewhat unlikely, “We barely got the heartbeat bill passed, one vote.” Then the supporter asks Kemp if he likes the idea of protecting IVF embryos, to which he responds emphatically, “Yeah.”

The likely Kemp flackey says of the governor, “This man’s proven his pro-life credentials,” and tells the supporter, “Yeah, we’ll talk about that [proposal].”

But Kemp’s campaign said he wouldn’t actually support such a bill if it were introduced. “The governor has been abundantly clear that his priorities for a second term are to build on Georgia’s record economic success, invest in and support our schools, and keep our communities safe,” Kemp spokesman Tate Mitchell told the AJC. So Kemp was either lying at the event or is lying now.

Kemp’s pro-choice opponent, Democrat Stacey Abrams, trails the incumbent in polls by about five points. She narrowly lost to Kemp in 2018. “Women deserve full citizenship in the United States and certainly in the state of Georgia, and they are being denied that because of Brian Kemp’s six-week ban,” Abrams told CNN in September.

Anti-abortion activists have long had IVF on their fetal personhood agenda. They object to embryos being destroyed due to genetic screening results or because people are done building their families. They’re just being much more open about it now.

“Ultimately, we believe that all human life is valuable and deserves our legal protection from that beginning moment of fertilization, whether that occurs through normal means or through IVF,” Rebecca Parma, senior legislative associate with Texas Right to Life, told a local news outlet in July. “And so certainly we want those embryos who are created through the IVF process protected.”

What could it mean practically if laws banning embryo destruction were to pass? People would have to pay to store their unused embryos forever, pay to move them to another state, or they might feel pressured to donate the embryos to anti-abortion organizations instead of footing that bill. That is, if IVF even remains available in their state.

Depending on how carefully any embryo-destruction laws are written, fertility clinics could get in trouble if storage tanks have power issues and embryos get destroyed—this is rare but it’s happened. Elizabeth Nash, the principal policy analyst for state issues at Guttmacher Institute, told Jezebel in June that nearly 40 states have fetal homicide laws, originally intended to help address homicide during pregnancy, but the laws have since been co-opted to criminalize pregnant people. Anti-abortion lawmakers could technically use these same laws, and other “life begins at conception” language, to target fertility clinics.

Fertility clinics might choose to limit the number of embryos created per cycle to try to avoid having any “extra,” but that could mean more expensive and invasive cycles until someone successfully gets pregnant. If the clinics choose not to offer IVF because of restrictions on embryos, it could threaten their business models, which could lead to less access to other fertility treatments like artificial insemination, as Jezebel’s Kylie Cheung reported.

Experts have been worried about the impact of abortion bans on IVF for years, and after the Supreme Court overturned Roe, people were already moving their embryos out of red states to avoid possible legal complications.

People warned this was coming, and now it’s time for lawmakers to explicitly protect IVF in addition to abortion.

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