Alabama state outline and an embryo against a pink backdrop
Andrea Austria / Media Matters

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After years of pushing for “fetal personhood,” some right-wing media and anti-abortion organizations celebrate the Alabama IVF ruling

But other conservative voices like Fox News and Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America have largely avoided commenting on the ruling, seemingly due to IVF’s widespread support

The Alabama Supreme Court’s recent decision that the disposal or destruction of embryos created through in vitro fertilization may be considered as wrongful deaths comes as a result of the anti-abortion movement’s years of advocating that embryos and fetuses should be conferred legal rights starting at conception. Though right-wing media have long pushed the dubious legal merits of “fetal personhood,” some conservative media and anti-abortion advocacy groups are shying away from commenting on the ruling, while other outlets and organizations are boasting of the court’s decision as a “tremendous victory.”

  • The Alabama Supreme Court’s recent decision equating frozen embryos to children follows decades of anti-abortion organizing to cement “fetal personhood”

    • On February 16, the Alabama Supreme Court ruled 8-1 that frozen embryos created during the in vitro fertilization process are equivalent to children and thus are covered under the state’s 1872 Wrongful Death of a Minor Act. The fallout of the case, which was brought by IVF patients whose embryos were destroyed by another patient, has led several Alabama fertility clinics to stop offering IVF treatments out of legal caution. [19th News, 2/20/24; NBC News, 2/21/24]

    • At the core of the court’s decision is the concept of “fetal personhood” — the notion that fertilized eggs, embryos, and fetuses are entitled to legal rights beginning at the point of conception. Anti-abortion forces have attempted to codify fetal personhood for decades as part of their mission to overturn Roe v. Wade and open the door to criminalizing abortion and other reproductive health care. [Reproductive Freedom for All, 6/1/23]

    • Historian Mary Ziegler explained that the anti-abortion movement’s next frontier would be “an all-out fight for fetal personhood.” After years of failed attempts to enshrine legal protections for embryos and fetuses, Ziegler wrote in The New York Times that an apparent split among anti-abortion activists on how to proceed may not be related to moral grounds but rather movement strategy: “If mainstream anti-abortion groups were relatively quiet about personhood in recent years, it wasn’t necessarily because they believed that such efforts went too far.” [The New York Times, 8/31/22]

    • The concept of fetal personhood has also inspired “feticide” laws that criminalize pregnant people for allegedly endangering their pregnancies. Through feticide laws, the anti-abortion movement is able to “weaponize grief after pregnancy loss to suggest the callousness of abortion and to promote the concept of fetal personhood.” Since Roe was first decided by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1973, there have been hundreds of criminal cases centered on pregnancy and pregnancy loss. [The New York Times, 8/2/22; NPR, 7/3/22]

    • Organizations like Live Action and Students for Life of America have led the drumbeat against IVF for years. On X (formerly Twitter), Students for Life of America’s Kristan Hawkins pushed the notion that embryos are “human beings,” writing that “producing children via IVF is practicing eugenics.” The post continued: “Some of the human embryos (aka human beings) created will end up being frozen & others who don’t have the ‘right’ genetics will be thrown away or donated to ‘research.’” Live Action founder Lila Rose similarly commented, “In the process of creating life, IVF may be killing babies at a higher rate than abortion.” [Twitter/X, 3/17/22; 10/23/23]

  • As a reliable propaganda arm for the anti-abortion movement, right-wing media have pushed for fetal personhood for years

    • Former Fox News host Bill O’Reilly pushed fetal personhood when he claimed that “medical advances now prove that human DNA is present upon conception. That has caused some people to question whether abortion is the destruction of a human being.” He criticized two Democratic lawmakers speaking in support of abortion rights, asking, “Who are these people to reject human DNA?” (In Natural Sciences, evolutionary biologist Scott F. Gilbert describes this anti-abortion claim as “pseudoscience” that is central to the “myth that DNA constitutes our soul, and that fertilization represents our ensoulment.”) [Fox News, The O’Reilly Factor, 7/15/14; Natural Sciences, 12/7/22]

    • In 2016, then-National Review writer David French promoted “the humanity of the fetus” and falsely asserted that fetal personhood was supported by scientific evidence. French criticized a New York Times op-ed written by an OB-GYN calling for abortion laws to be rooted in “the best available science,” saying that the opinion piece ignores that “from the moment of conception, a separate human being exists.” [Media Matters, 9/2/16]

    • A 2016 Fox News op-ed by Andrew Napolitano lamented the Roe ruling for ignoring the personhood of fetuses in the womb, which allowed the abortion rights movement “to continue to kill babies in the name of sexual freedom.” He wrote, “The Court understood that abortion and fetal personhood would constitute the states permitting private persons to murder other persons. So, in order to accommodate the killing, it simply redefined the meaning of ‘person,’ lest it permit a state of affairs that due process and the prohibition of slavery could never tolerate.” [, 1/21/16]

    • OAN host Kara McKinney reacted to the leak of the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization majority opinion, asking “How valid are the left's concerns that some states could ban IVF? And more importantly, is that even a bad thing?” McKinney argued, “When we talk about it in the abortion debate, and we say we believe that life begins at conception, and that we protect all human life from conception until natural death, that IVF then does play into that as well.” [OAN, Tipping Point with Kara McKinney, 5/25/22]

    • After two gay conservative media figures announced their use of IVF and surrogacy to have children, other right-wing media lashed out at fertility treatments, with some hosts promoting fetal personhood. For example, The Daily Wire’s Michael Knowles stated freezing embryos in IVF was “profoundly immoral,” equating frozen embryos to “human beings” who “remain frozen on ice in perpetuity.” [Media Matters, 12/6/23]

    • OAN host Addision Smith similarly decried IVF treatments, stating they could cause a “slippery slope that leads right back to slavery.” Smith also said the process of freezing embryos was “dehumanizing,” and his guest Ryan Helfenbein commented, “As a Christian, I believe that ultimately life begins at conception, and in this case, with IVF — in vitro fertilization — a fertilized egg is just like a conceived egg in the womb.” [OAN, In Focus with Addison Smith, 3/20/23]

    • Smith previously characterized IVF as essentially giving people “the ability to create a human life and destroy it outside of just, you know, your typical, natural abortion procedure.” Jordan Boyd of The Federalist also referred to IVF as “adults’ selfish desires.” [OAN, In Focus with Addison Smith, 10/27/22]

  • After the Alabama Supreme Court ruling, many right-wing outlets and organizations celebrated the decision and used it to continue pushing fetal personhood rhetoric

    • The Heritage Foundation’s Emma Waters appeared on OAN and touted the Alabama ruling as “an unqualified win for those who believe that the personhood of embryonic children, not a financially driven fertility industry, should be the primary concern in in vitro fertilization.” Host Kara McKinney also commented, “It's bringing back ethics and humanity, I think, to this conversation surrounding IVF.” [OAN, Tipping Point with Kara McKinney, 2/21/24]
    • The right-wing Media Research Center wrote that the ruling “is a good thing. Regardless of whether a child is conceived naturally or by artificial implantation, that child has value and has sanctity and deserves to be treated as such.” The first sentence of its NewsBusters article on the ruling reads: “Sweet Home Alabama just got even sweeter for babies.” [Media Research Center, 2/19/24]

    • The Federalist responded to the Alabama decision by claiming: “Big Fertility feels threatened because reproductive technologies like IVF hinge on the destruction of hundreds of millions of embryos.” According to the outlet, “In some cases, like the one million embryos sitting in storage in the U.S., these unborn children are indefinitely sentenced by the people who paid for their creation to frozen life in a lab, which reduces their chances of survival." [The Federalist, 2/20/24]

    • Live Action issued a press release in which founder Lila Rose claimed that the decision affirms that “each person, from the tiniest embryo to an elder nearing the end of his life, has incalculable value that deserves and is guaranteed legal protection.” Rose also stated that the decision “rightly acknowledged the humanity of unborn children created through in vitro fertilization (IVF) and is an important step towards applying equal protection for all.” [Live Action, 2/19/24]

    • Anti-abortion and anti-LGBTQ law firm Alliance Defending Freedom reacted to the ruling on X (formerly Twitter): “No matter the circumstances, all human life is valuable from the moment of conception. We are grateful for the Alabama Court ruling, which is a tremendous victory for life!” [Twitter/X, 2/20/24]

    • ADF senior counsel Denise Burke also called the decision “a tremendous victory for life.” She claimed that the state court “correctly found that Alabama law recognizes the fundamental truth” that “all human life is valuable from the moment of conception.” [Bloomberg Law, 2/20/24]

    • National Right to Life did not issue a press release on the ruling but the group’s “news” site published an article celebrating the decision on February 20, suggesting that through IVF, “countless embryonic preborn children are created and then discarded when they are deemed unfit or unwanted.” [National Right to Life News, 2/20/24]

  • Seemingly due to the widespread unpopularity of targeting IVF, some of the most influential conservative voices are avoiding making public comments on the ruling

    • GOP 2024 frontrunner Donald Trump and the National Republican Senatorial Committee have both publicly emphasized the party’s need to back IVF, citing its popularity with American voters. On Truth Social, Trump wrote, “We want to make it easier for mothers and fathers to have babies, not harder! That includes supporting the availability of fertility treatments like IVF in every State in America.” On the other hand, Nikki Haley, who is running against Trump for the 2024 GOP nomination, stated her agreement with the ruling, commenting, “Embryos, to me, are babies." [The Washington Post, 2/23/24; Bloomberg News, 2/21/24]

    • Fox News largely ignored the story, giving it only 6 minutes of airtime between the ruling’s February 16 announcement and noon on February 23. The ruling “was completely ignored by the panel show The Five and the evening shows fronted by influential right-wing hosts Laura Ingraham, Jesse Watters, Sean Hannity, and Greg Gutfeld.” Fox’s 6 minutes of coverage is particularly miniscule compared to its cable competitors CNN and MSNBC, both of whom individually spent more than 3 hours covering the story. [Media Matters, 2/22/24, 2/23/24]

    • Influential anti-abortion group Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America has mostly refrained from making public comments about the ruling and seemingly tried to walk back its implications for IVF. Although the group did not initially make a press release on the Alabama decision, SBA sent a statement after NOTUS published an article telling the outlet that the ruling “does not mean fertility treatment is prohibited. Rather it means fertility treatments need not carelessly or intentionally destroy the new life created.” [NOTUS, 2/21/24]