ThEy WoN’t CoMe fOr IvF

The Southern Baptist Convention voted to oppose IVF on Wednesday. The following day, 46 Republican senators voted to block the Right to IVF Act for a third time. But don't worry, all they wanted to do was ban abortion! 

Politics
ThEy WoN’t CoMe fOr IvF

The end of Roe v. Wade was always about more than the loss of abortion rights, and the events of this week have truly crystallized this—especially where IVF is concerned.

Legal experts and advocates have long warned that banning abortion would open the door for attacks on birth control, people experiencing pregnancy complications including miscarriage, and, certainly, IVF. In the face of these warnings, as recently as last week, Republican lawmakers have accused us of “fearmongering” and “scare tactics.” If only! On Wednesday, 11,000 members of the Southern Baptist Convention—the largest and most powerful Protestant denomination in the U.S.—voted to oppose IVF, in a resolution that claims IVF “most often participates in the destruction of embryonic human life.” Then, on Thursday, 46 Republicans voted to block the Right to IVF Act…for a third time.

The resolution from the Southern Baptist Convention calls on members of the denomination to reject reproductive technologies that undermine “the unconditional value and right to life of every human being.” In a proposal that’s so removed from reality it’s comical, the resolution points to surplus embryos created for the purpose of IVF and argues that instead of being destroyed, people should adopt these “frozen embryos in order to rescue those who are eventually to be destroyed.” (I know it’s said over and over, but mind you, there are actual born, non-hypothetical children and families far more deserving of attention and support than literal embryos.)

The Southern Baptist Convention obviously isn’t Congress, but—again—this is the largest and most powerful Protestant denomination in the country, effectively calling for IVF to be banned. Outlawing IVF clearly isn’t a fringe position at this point. Throughout the past two years (and behind closed doors for years before that), Republican lawmakers, state Republican parties, and courts like Alabama’s Supreme Court have been steering us in this direction.

As a reminder of how quickly we got here, let’s travel back to 2022: Just five months after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, leaked audio obtained by ProPublica revealed anti-abortion activists advising Tennessee Republicans to wait for the right time to inevitably go after birth control and IVF. In February 2023, several states including Kansas, West Virginia, and Arkansas introduced bills that would recognize the destruction of an embryo as “wrongful death.” Flash forward to March of this year, and Tennessee Republicans blocked a bill to codify IVF and birth control protections from even coming out of committee, because—tellingly!—they said it would limit the state’s total abortion ban.

The rejected Tennessee bill was prompted by national concerns about access to IVF following developments in Alabama. In February, the Alabama Supreme Court ruled that frozen embryos are “extrauterine children” and their destruction is eligible for wrongful death lawsuits. The ruling consequently led to fertility clinics across the state pausing IVF services until the legislature rushed to pass an emergency law protecting fertility clinics from civil and criminal liability. But before Governor Kay Ivey (R) signed the bill, the most influential anti-abortion groups in the nation implored Ivey not to, writing in a deranged letter that protections for IVF “will ultimately harm these families and jeopardize the lives of precious children”—referring, of course, to embryos.

This position held by anti-abortion leaders is increasingly shared by the Republican Party writ large, particularly at the state level. Just this week, Mother Jones reported that the North Carolina Republican Party’s official 2024 platform opposes the destruction of human embryos, effectively calling for a ban on IVF. In May, Texas similarly voted on the state’s GOP official 2024 platform, which included abortion being recognized as homicide, the legal recognition of fetuses as people, and the criminalization of IVF.

On the federal level, House Speaker Mike Johnson called on lawmakers in March “to look at the ethics surrounding” IVF: “If you do believe that life begins at conception, it’s a really important question to wrestle with.” And in the Senate, as of Thursday, Republicans have now thrice blocked a bill that would codify federal protections for fertility clinics to offer IVF services and for patients to undergo IVF. 

In May, Republican Sens. Ted Cruz (TX) and Katie Britt (AL)  introduced a bill to ostensibly protect IVF by threatening to strip states that ban the fertility technology of Medicaid funding should they explicitly ban IVF; however, the bill leaves the door open for states to impose varying restrictions and regulations on the process, which fertility experts warn can lead to IVF being outlawed as we saw in Alabama. That’s because IVF will likely be pushed out of reach not through explicit bans, but through restrictions on, say, the destruction of unused embryos, or any legal recognition of the destruction of embryos as “wrongful death,” which would lead to fertility clinics discontinuing IVF en masse.

Within days of the end of Roe, IVF patients told the Wall Street Journal they were asking their health care providers to move their embryos to states that protect abortion rights, while fertility clinics called for legislation to explicitly protect IVF. They weren’t being paranoid or overly cautious: Anti-abortion leaders have long been equating things like birth control and routine aspects of IVF to abortion—when abortion is banned, so, too, can everything that’s seen as abortion. This isn’t happening in some distant, Handmaid’s Tale-esque, dystopian future; as the events of just this week show, this is the direction we’re heading in right now.

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