Cardinal & Pine by Michael McElroy 

After the Alabama Supreme Court blocked access to IVF in February, some prominent Republicans across the country tried to distance themselves from the ruling. But the reasoning cited by the conservative judges—that life begins at conception—is a core belief of many far-right lawmakers and was the central justification for the abortion bans that Republican legislatures introduced in many states after Roe v. Wade was overturned. 

Even as far-right groups have made it clear they are pushing for IVF restrictions, and are preparing to use the Alabama court’s ruling as the legal justification, many Republicans have said publicly that IVF should be protected.

But if they are serious about protecting IVF, Democrats and reproductive rights groups say, then it’s time for Republicans to put their votes where their mouths are.

North Carolina’s entire Democratic Congressional delegation on Tuesday sent a letter to House Speaker Mike Johnson, a Republican, urging him to call for a vote on legislation that protects IVF access across the country.

If Congress doesn’t act, the Democrats wrote Johnson, Republican-controlled states may follow the court’s precedent, claim legal rights for embryos, and threaten patients’ access to a procedure that has helped millions of couples have babies they likely would have been unable to have on their own.

“The concept that an embryo could have legal rights threatens scientific advancements and women’s health across the nation,” the Democrats wrote, “and the Alabama’s Supreme Court’s ruling could encourage judges and legislators in other states—including in our home state of North Carolina—to enact similar rulings or legislation.”

The letter was signed by each of North Carolina’s seven members of Congress: Rep. Deborah Ross; Rep. Jeff Jackson; Rep. Alma Adams; Rep. Wiley Nickel; Rep. Kathy Manning; Rep. Valerie Foushee; and Rep. Don Davis.

A ruling at odds with science

Infertility issues affect 1 in 5 couples nationally, and IVF is often the best option to help them have children.

The IVF process involves fertilizing the mother’s egg in a lab, then implanting the embryo in the uterus. But, just like in pregnancy overall, not all embryos take. So multiple eggs are fertilized at once to produce multiple embryos to increase the chances of success. It is common, doctors say, to have to undergo several rounds of IVF before becoming pregnant. 

The unused embryos are often frozen for future use or, if the couple doesn’t want to try again, are discarded. Discarding these embryos, the Alabama court ruled, is the same as murder. 

That is a ruling completely at odds with the science and mechanics behind IVF’s significant success in helping couples have children. 

“Congress must act to enshrine into law legal protections for women and families who rely on assisted reproductive technologies,” the Democrats wrote in their letter. 

‘We cannot accept this latest attempt to control women’

Johnson, who has said that he believed life begins at conception, said after the ruling that IVF should be protected. But House Republicans also blocked a bill introduced by Democrats to ensure that IVF access would not be restricted, and a group of nearly 130 GOP members introduced a separate bill last year that would classify embryos as children under federal law. 

“It is clear that a gap has emerged between what the Republican leadership and some Republican Members are saying about IVF and what you and your Members are willing to do to protect access to this critical technology,” the Democrats wrote. 

“We cannot accept this latest attempt to control women, their bodies, and their ability to have a Family,” they wrote.

Calls for protections in North Carolina, too

The push to call embryos children, Democrats say, firmly links the fights for IVF access and abortion rights, both of which will be big issues in North Carolina during the 2024 elections. 

Several Republican candidates for key positions in the state government, including Mark Robinson, the GOP nominee for governor, have pushed for complete abortion bans and have stated their belief in life starting at conception. 

IVF patients, medical professionals, and Attorney General Josh Stein, the Democratic nominee for governor, called on the Republican controlled General Assembly last month to protect IVF in the state. 

While it is unlikely that the legislature would introduce new abortion or IVF restrictions in the run up to the election, it is just as likely that they would move on these issues after November if they stay in power, Democrats and reproductive rights advocates say.

Rumblings from any Republicans suggesting they would protect IVF, is just talk until they show otherwise,  NC Rep. Robert Reives, the highest ranking Democrat in the North Carolina House, said in an interview this week. 

“It is completely inconsistent to say that we’re going to try to protect IVF and still hold the same positions that you have about total bans on abortion,”  Reives said. “There’s no way around that.”