Religious conservatives are coming out hot against IVF. Trump is in trouble

The Republican Party and its presumptive presidential nominee are struggling to articulate a position on reproductive rights

Eric Garcia
Capitol Hill, Washington, DC
Friday 14 June 2024 19:21 BST
RSC chairman Kevin Hern claims Trump 'didn't bring up' IVF during Capitol Hill visit

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Louise Thomas

Louise Thomas

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On Wednesday, the day before former president Donald Trump paid a visit to Capitol Hill, Senators Katie Britt of Alabama and Ted Cruz of Texas were on the floor debating their legislation to protect access to IVF.

The two Republicans — one a rising star in the party who is the youngest female Senator, the other a firebrand conservative who is trying to rebrand himself as a consensus builder as Texas gets purpler — proposed the legislation in response to Democrats teeing up their own vote on legislation. Cruz and Britt were trying to make the argument that Republicans like them aren’t against the fertility treatment, all while avoiding voting for a Democrat-led law.

But just as Britt and Cruz were speaking, the Southern Baptist Convention voted on a resolution that denounced IVF. Their denunciation was based on the practice — normal during IVF treatment — of creating multiple embryos that could be potentially used in the future but many of which could be destroyed.

Democrats only began talking about IVF after an Alabama Supreme Court ruling classified frozen embryos as children under state law. That Alabama ruling mentioned Dobbs v Jackson, the US Supreme Court ruling that killed Roe v Wade, which came because of Supreme Court justices that Trump nominated and Cruz voted to confirm.

The whole episode shows how almost two years after the Dobbs case, Republicans have still not figured out how to talk about abortion — and there are few signs they will figure it out soon.

As Inside Washington reported on Thursday, Trump talked with congressional Republicans about abortion when he appeared on Capitol Hill, but only spoke in platitudes. Representative Nancy Mace, a pro-Trump Republican, said that Trump talked about exceptions for rape and incest and the life of the mother, but apart from that was low on specifics.

In April, he gave a mealy-mouthed, meandering statement on Truth Social where he refused to support a national abortion ban and essentially said the issue should be left to states. That infuriated some conservatives.

Similarly, Trump tried doing an abortion two-step earlier this week when he delivered a pre-recorded address to a forum held by the Danbury Institute, which denounces abortion as “child sacrifice.” The former president notably did not use the word “abortion” in his address at the conference. But one of the speakers there, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary president Dr Albert Mohler, said that IVF had caused “the alienation of reproduction from the conjugal setting” and wanton destruction of babies.

Such open hostility toward IVF from the second-largest denomination in the United States — behind only Roman Catholicism — shows that Democratic attacks about Republicans don’t come out of thin air. They are rooted in explicit opposition from a denomination that counts many Republicans as its congregants.

But Trump has not given Republicans marching orders about how to discuss the issue.

Indeed, Kevin Hern, chairman of the Republican Study Committee, the largest subgroup in the House GOP, told The Independent that Trump did not bring up IVF at all when he spoke to Republicans. That’s a misstep, because party members need some instruction in how to talk about it. The Republican Study Committee has explicitly endorsed the Life Begins at Conception Act, which says that the right to life is guaranteed in the US Constitution “at all stages of life, including the moment of fertilization,” which would also endanger IVF. So other Republicans claiming they support the treatment at the same time is extremely confusing.

For the record, the RSC is not a fringe group. House Speaker Mike Johnson led the group at one point and he is a co-sponsor of the Life Begins at Conception Act.

Republicans still find themselves lost at sea when it comes to talking about IVF or abortion rights. This gives Democrats an opening even in states where they have not been competitive in a long time. In Florida, the state supreme court allowed for a six-week abortion ban to go into effect — but also allowed for a ballot initiative to enshrine abortion rights in the state constitution to move forward. Democrats hope this can help them knock off Senator Rick Scott, who has never lost a race in Florida since he ran for governor but failed to flip a single seat as National Republican Senatorial Committee Chairman last cycle, largely in response to Dobbs.

Scott, a self-funded businessman and an ally of Trump, announced a seven-figure ad buy talking about his support for IVF and the fact his daughter is undergoing IVF treatments.

The ad announcement came after he voted against the legislation to protect IVF on Thursday.

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