Tennessee Republicans Reject Bill to Protect IVF, Argue It Would Weaken Abortion Ban

On Tuesday, state Republicans blocked a bill that would protect birth control and IVF. It’s a warning that anti-abortion lawmakers equate abortion with all reproductive decisions.

Tennessee Republicans Reject Bill to Protect IVF, Argue It Would Weaken Abortion Ban

Republicans in Tennessee have rejected a bill that would codify protections for IVF and birth control in the wake of the disastrous Alabama Supreme Court ruling that’s effectively shuttered IVF clinics in the state. It also comes a week after Senate Republicans blocked a bill to codify similar federal protections for the procedure—for a second time since 2022.

On Tuesday, Republicans on the Population Health Subcommittee blocked Rep. Harold Love’s (D) bill HB 2227, which Love said would protect birth control and IVF procedures (specifically “the disposal of embryos resulting from fertility treatments, including healthcare services, procedures, testing, medications, treatments, or products”) from Tennessee’s abortion ban.

As it stands, Love pointed out, the state’s current total ban says that life begins at conception, which could endanger fertility clinics, as IVF services often require the routine disposal of unused embryos. In February, after Alabama’s Supreme Court ruled that frozen embryos are “extrauterine children” eligible for wrongful death lawsuits, at least three fertility clinics in the state paused IVF services out of concern that costly wrongful death suits could bankrupt them.

Tennessee Republicans argued against Love’s bill on multiple fronts, first claiming the bill was unnecessary because the state attorney general said in 2022 that the ban doesn’t apply to IVF and only applies to embryos already implanted in a uterus. Love argued that just the AG’s word isn’t enough to protect IVF. And to his point, the Alabama attorney general’s office similarly declared that it won’t prosecute IVF—yet IVF services remain paused across the state due to fear of lawsuits.

“That attorney general’s opinion is simply one attorney’s opinion. Codifying language makes it very clear that this access is protected. We can see numerous unintended consequences from the way that laws are worded,” House Democratic Chair John Ray Clemmons said, per The Tennesseean. Since the Alabama ruling, Alabama legislators have been scrambling to enact protections for IVF in the legislature similar to what Clemmons and Tennessee Democrats tried to enact with HB 2227.

But Tennessee Republicans aren’t just trying to argue the bill is unnecessary. They also opposed the bill because they said it could limit their abortion ban—which is obviously in direct contradiction to their argument that it’s simply unnecessary. “When you put confusing language in there, it makes it harder to defend [the ban] and puts the unborn at risk,” Rep. Bryan Terry (R) told The Tennesseean. According to the outlet, Terry also baselessly claimed Love’s bill would permit “selective abortion” after embryo transfer, even as Love clarified his bill would specifically apply to unused embryos to protect IVF. Terry’s arguments against HB 2227 are about leaving the door open for the state’s extreme abortion ban to restrict and police any number of reproductive decisions. Per The Tennesseean, he said he also opposed the bill because “he believed it would weaken the abortion statute.”

Over a year ago, in November 2022, leaked audio obtained by ProPublica showed anti-abortion activists advising Tennessee Republicans to wait for the right time to inevitably pick up their attacks on birth control and IVF. In particular, Republicans have targeted contraception like the morning-after pill and the IUD (which can prevent conception if inserted after unprotected sex) for years now by falsely equating them with abortion—even though neither interrupts an existing pregnancy. “Maybe your caucus gets to a point next year, two years from now, three years from now, where you do want to talk about IVF, and how to regulate it in a more ethical way, or deal with some of those contraceptive issues,” the vice president of state affairs for Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America says to the lawmakers in the audio. “But I don’t think that that’s the conversation that you need to have now.”

Terry and Tennessee Republicans’ arguments against codified protections for IVF and birth control ironically demonstrate exactly why the state—and all states—need such legislation in the first place. Anti-abortion lawmakers want their abortion bans to be the entryway to recognizing fetuses and embryos as people via “life begins at conception” language, both endangering IVF and rendering pregnant people more vulnerable to state policing in the process. Abortion bans are also a means to control access to birth control by equating it with abortion.

Tennessee Republicans’ rejection of this bill is a warning: Bodily autonomy is inextricably conjoined with abortion in the eyes of anti-abortion lawmakers, and they’re determined to be the ones to make our reproductive decisions for us.

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