Fox News ducks reporting on the Alabama Supreme Court’s IVF ruling

As fertility clinics pause in vitro fertilizations, Fox gives the story 6 minutes of airtime

You can tell that the all-Republican Alabama Supreme Court’s Friday ruling that frozen embryos are legally equivalent to children is bad news for the GOP because the party’s propagandists at Fox News aren’t talking about it. According to a Media Matters review, the right-wing network devoted less than 6 minutes of coverage to the ruling through Wednesday, even as Alabama fertility clinics shut down in vitro fertilization treatments in response.

The Alabama case focused on whether former IVF patients could file wrongful death lawsuits against the fertility clinic they had used to conceive children after another patient who breached the clinic’s cryogenic storage facility mistakenly destroyed their leftover embryos. The court ruled that they could, holding that under state law, “unborn children are ‘children’ ... without exception based on developmental stage, physical location, or any other ancillary characteristics.” 

Chief Justice Tom Parker, an anti-abortion zealot and apparent proponent of the Christian nationalist “Seven Mountain Mandate,” added in a concurring opinion that Alabama has adopted a “theologically based view of the sanctity of life,” and wrote that “human life cannot be wrongfully destroyed without incurring the wrath of a holy God.”

The Alabama Supreme Court’s ruling could have dire implications for would-be parents seeking to conceive through IVF in the state — and beyond its borders. At least three of Alabama’s eight clinics paused IVF treatments, fearing potential legal liability. Practitioners warn that increased financial and physical costs to patients could render IVF unaffordable to many prospective patients, and that treating embryos as the legal equivalent of children raises questions about the legality of common IVF practices, such as freezing embryos. And advocates are sounding the alarm over the prospect of similar cases in other states with laws defining personhood as beginning at fertilization.

Restrictions on IVF are an inevitable result of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to overturn the abortion rights enshrined in Roe v. Wade, as anti-abortion forces seek new targets. Some right-wing commentators have spent the post-Roe era targeting fertility treatments and surrogacy, which they describe as “immoral” and “morally horrific,” and groups like Americans United for Life celebrated the Alabama Supreme Court’s decision after it came down.

But Fox’s right-wing hosts aren't crowing about the outcome as a political victory for their movement. The story 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. 

The network’s 6 minutes of coverage consisted of a series of teasers and headline reads — flagship “news side” broadcast Special Report gave it all of 19 seconds of airtime — and a single full segment on the Tuesday edition midafternoon “news side” program America Reports

That segment featured Shannon Bream — Fox’s senior legal correspondent and perhaps its most prolific font of anti-abortion misinformation — who pointed out that abortion opponents were celebrating the decision. But she repeatedly stressed that the ruling merely allowed patients to sue if embryos were destroyed, falsely implying that Fox viewers or their loved ones who might seek IVF treatments had nothing to fear from the result, even as she noted some clinics had paused their operations.

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Citation From the February 21, 2024, edition of Fox News' America Reports.

Since Roe fell, Fox has been helping the GOP cover up the implications of the party’s unpopular position on abortion, which includes support for a constitutional amendment banning all abortions by granting full constitutional rights to “unborn children.” Hosts like Hannity, who prioritize the party’s electoral success over all other considerations, have urged Republicans to coalesce around a public position of banning abortions at 15 weeks on the grounds that it would be less politically risky. But as the Alabama ruling shows, when the party actually gains power, its leaders roll back abortion rights as far as they are able.

And such excesses are incredibly toxic for the party. IVF is commonplace and popular, including among Republicans. Even former Vice President Mike Pence, an evangelical archconservative, has praised the treatments, which his wife received. 

“I fully support fertility treatments and I think they deserve the protection of the law,” he said in an interview in 2022. “They gave us great comfort in those long and challenging years that we struggled with infertility in our marriage.”

Telling people they shouldn’t be able to have children because the process inevitably results in destroyed embryos seems obviously cruel to anyone who isn’t an extreme ideologue. And if Fox hosts try to make that case, given how common IVF is, they will likely be implicating their friends and colleagues in what the anti-abortion activists describe as the murder of innocent children.

So rather than offering full-throated support for the Alabama ruling, or acknowledging the devastating impact of carrying the logic of the party that the network supports to its conclusion, they’re ducking the story.