CPAC celebrates the Alabama IVF ruling – while Trump and Republicans distance themselves

Republican candidates and the GOP’s presumptive presidential candidate have come out opposing restrictions to IVF. But some conservatives at CPAC celebrated the Alabama ruling, Eric Garcia reports

Saturday 24 February 2024 14:00 GMT
(Getty Images)

On Friday evening, during the Reagan Dinner, Bishop Joseph Strickland, the former bishop of Tyler, Texas addressed the topic Republican elected officials have hoped to avoid: the Alabama Supreme Court’s ruling that frozen embryos could be considered children under state law, saying that conservatives needed to guide Republicans politicians to support the “sanctity of life.”

“This decision by Alabama’s court was correct according to our Catholic faith,” he said addressing the conservative faithful and donors after an auction that included selling off portaits of Donald Trump and Jesus Christ and before a speech by failed presidential candidate Vivek Ramaswamy.

Bishop Strickland, whom Pope Francis relieved last year from his position, called upon conservative activists to push Republican elected officials to stand steadfast behind the Alabama court ruling.

“We must help them understand the intricacies of what science has done, in playing God and having children, embryos, embryonic children frozen and too easily disposed,” he said.

Earlier this week, the Alabama Supreme Court made the decision as part of a wrongful death lawsuit that three couples brought after they had frozen embryos destroyed in an accident at a clinic.

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But at the Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center at National Harbor in Maryland just outside of Washington, some conservatives praised the ruling, while Republican candidates for Senate and even Donald Trump have sought to create distance between themselves and the decision in Alabama.

Fr Joseph Pierce, a priest at St John Vianney Church in Frederick, Maryland, agreed with Bishop Strickland.

“I'd say it's one of those steps for life in the right direction,” he told The Independent on Friday evening. He added that Catholic teaching opposes in vitro fertilisation as a means of achieving fertility.

At the same time, Fr Pierce said that he did not expect it to have widespread consequences. “It has potential but for example, here in the state of Maryland, where we are right now, I don't think it would even be viable to even think that way at this point, politically speaking,” he said.

Similar, Sarah Taylor – who works with And Then There Were None, which focuses on helping former abortion clinic workers leave their practices – said she supported the decision.

“I think that all life begins at conception, including embryos. And so I think that we have to begin to think ethically about how to handle those,” she told The Independent.

Courtney Alcott, who was also at the same booth for And Then There Were None, said she supported the court decision.

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“I think it needs to be looked at more holistically as far as how IVF is treated where there's multiple, multiple, multiple embryos created that we might need to look at more more ethically responsible action,” she told The Independent.

The court ruling caused a political firestorm and led to Democrats hoping to pin the ruling on Republicans. White House Press Secretary Karine Jeane-Pierre slammed the ruling in a briefing on Friday. Specifically, she linked it to the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v Wade in 2022 with the Dobbs v Jackson Women’s Health Organization ruling. Indeed, the Alabama Supreme Court’s ruling cited the Dobbs decision.

“This is the chaos that has come out of the Dobbs decision. This is the chaos that has come out of of getting rid of Roe, which was the law of the land for almost 50 years,” she told reporters.

In addition, shortly after exiting the stage from speaking at CPAC, reporters asked Senator Tommy Tubervile of Alabama about the ruling, which he said he supported.

“We need to have more kids,” he told one reporter as broadcast on MSNBC. But when pressed on how IVF actually is used to have more children, he stumbled.

Republicans have begun to sense that the ruling is unpopular. Last year, the Pew Research Center found that 42 per cent of Americans have either used fertility treatments or knew someone who has, particularly as women continue to have children older. On Friday, Mr Tuberville posted on X/Twitter that he had spoken with Alabama’s speaker of the house, saying that the legislature will take up a bill to protect IVF.

“We want everyone to have the opportunity to have kids,” he said. “IVF will remain legal and available in Alabama.”

Similarly, National Review reported that the National Republican Senatorial Committee sent a memo to Republican candidates for Senate instructing them to “clearly state your support for IVF and fertility-related services as blessings for those seeking to have children.”

Two of the candidates for Senate in swing states who appeared at CPAC – David McCormick in Pennsylvania and Kari Lake in Arizona – both put out statements saying they opposed restrictions to IVF.

“IVF is a ray of hope for millions of Americans seeking the blessing of children,” Mr McCormick, who is running against incumbent Senator Bob Casey, said. “I oppose any effort to restrict it.”

Similarly, Ms Lake, who previously lost her race for governor and is now running for the Senate seat currently occupied by Kyrsten Sinema, put out a statement supporting IVF. Ms Lake has become one of the most popular figures in the conservative movement for spreading the lie that the 2020 presidential election was stolen.

“One in six Americans struggle with fertility issues,” she posted. “In the Senate, I will advocate for increased access to fertility treatment for women struggling to get pregnant. IVF is extremely important for helping countless families experience the joy of parenthood. I oppose restrictions.”

At CPAC, many of the conservative faithful continued to ask for selfies as she made the rounds speaking to right-wing media outlets and podcasts.

Shortly after Republican candidates for Senate came out and expressed their support for IVF, Mr Trump did so as well.

“Like the OVERWHELMING MAJORITY of Americans, including the VAST MAJORITY of Republicans, Conservatives, Christians, and Pro-Life Americans, I strongly support the availability of IVF for couples who are trying to have a precious baby,” he said before he demanded Alabama’s legislature “act quickly to find an immediate solution to preserve the availability of IVF in Alabama.”

Still, some conservatives said there would be alternatives to IVF treatment that Alabama prohibited. At the same time, Ms Alcott said that there were other alternatives which could assuage their fears.

“We were looking at things last night, and in the [European Union] and other countries, they limit the amount of embryos that you can make one at a time,” Ms Alcott said. “It’s more lengthy process probably more costly, I would guess.”

During the Reagan dinner, after Republicans released their statements saying they would support IVF, Bishop Strickland told attendees about the need to properly inform lawmakers.

“When the Alabama court says no, we cannot dispose of these human beings, let us guide our politicians who know that truth,” he said.

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