"My body, my choice" signs appear on three television screens that splay horizontally across the image.

Molly Butler / Media Matters

Research/Study Research/Study

The GOP “personhood” push led to the Alabama ruling that imperils IVF. Conservative media are now dishonestly trying to muddy the waters.

Following backlash against IVF ruling, right-wing media accuse Democrats of lying about conservatives’ continued assault on reproductive health care

In the aftermath of a recent Alabama Supreme Court’s decision that endangers in vitro fertilization clinics in the state, right-wing media are providing cover for the GOP as the party struggles to find a clear message on the issue, arguing that Democrats are twisting the truth about Republicans’ positions on reproductive health care. In reality, Republicans have spent decades pushing for “fetal personhood” legislation that would confer legal rights to embryos at the point of conception, a position that stands in direct contrast to some conservatives’ recent embrace of IVF. 

  • After Alabama’s IVF ruling, many conservatives have come out in support of the fertility treatment even though Congressional Republicans have pushed “fetal personhood” legislation for decades

    • Since the Alabama Supreme Court ruled in mid February that frozen embryos made during IVF are “children,” the Republican Party and its right-wing media allies have struggled to find a message that might resonate with the overwhelming majority of Americans who support IVF. Several Alabama fertility clinics have paused services since the ruling. Now conservatives have to defend themselves against  accusations that the party’s moves to restrict abortion and reproductive healthcare have endangered an extremely popular fertility treatment, IVF. [The Washington Post, 2/20/24; Rolling Stone, 2/23/24]
    • On February 28, Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-MI) blocked a Democrat-led effort to pass legislation to protect IVF. CBS News reported: “Sen. Tammy Duckworth, an Illinois Democrat, sought to approve the legislation under unanimous consent, which gives any single lawmaker the power to block its passage. The bill would create federal protections for IVF access nationwide, after access to the fertility treatment often used by women who struggle to become pregnant has come into question under state law in Alabama.” [CBS News, 2/28/24]
    • Meanwhile, Democrats have highlighted the seeming hypocrisy of GOP politicians who claim to support IVF while also backing federal legislation that aims to give legal rights to embryos. In 2023, 125 Republicans, including House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-LA), backed theThe Life at Conception Act, which would bestow embryos legal rights from the moment of fertilization. The most recent version of the bill did not include carveouts for IVF. A version of the bill introduced in the Senate in 2021 included an IVF exception, but only 19 Republican senators sponsored it. [CNN, 2/26/24]
    • The Life at Conception Act, a long-running policy priority for Congressional Republicans, would likely “scupper” the IVF industry. For decades, Republicans in both chambers have repeatedly introduced different  versions of the legislation. According to The New Republic, if enacted, the law would likely shudder most IVF clinics: “The Life at Conception Act would have severely restricted — if not effectively banned — IVF treatments as well, because it grants ‘equal protection’ to ‘preborn’ humans, including embryos. Since it’s common for fertilized eggs not to survive the IVF process, the act would put doctors at risk of being charged for wrongful death of embryos. That risk would be enough to scupper the IVF industry.” [USA Today, 2/28/24; The New Republic, 2/23/24]
    • Some in conservative media have attacked fertility processes like IVF and advocated for codifying “fetal personhood.” While some conservative and anti-abortion groups have not taken concrete stances on IVF, several right-wing media figures have attacked fertility treatments for supposedly dismissing the “humanity of the fetus.” [Media Matters, 12/6/23, 2/24/24]
  • Right-wing media have claimed that Democrats are lying about the GOP’s war on reproductive rights that led to the IVF ruling

    • America's Newsroom guest anchor Aishah Hasnie said “of course Democrats are going to try to play politics with this issue now” before asking a guest to “explain why this ruling has nothing to do with abortion.” May Mailman, director of the Independent Women’s Law Center, a right-wing legal group, argued that “Alabama law has long held that pre-born, pre-viable, pre-born lives count as lives,” and asserted that the plaintiffs in the Alabama case “just want [to be] compensated for their embryos being smashed due to the IVF clinic’s negligence.” [Fox News, America’s Newsroom, 2/26/24]
    • Daily Wire editor Brent Scher claimed that Democrats “want so so so badly for IVF to be a campaign issue. Don’t let Democrats and their media tools at WaPo get their way.” [Twitter/X, 2/25/24]
    • Right-wing outlet National Review claimed on X, “There’s no pro-life crusade against in vitro fertilization.” National Review also stated that “the families who brought the Alabama case generating so much critical coverage deserve compassion.” As of February 23, at least 14 states had introduced fetal personhood bills during the 2024 legislative session. [Twitter/X, 2/25/24; NBC News, 2/26/24]
    • A National Review article also claimed that it was “politically convenient for abortion supporters to contend that anything they object to is a result of Dobbs.” The article argued that restrictions on abortion access in the aftermath of Roe v. Wade did not pave the way for IVF restrictions. Writing for Slate, law professors Courtney G. Joslin and Mary Ziegler noted that Dobbs impacts more than just abortion access,“Dobbs is also limiting the ability of women to make decisions about how and when they have children in many other ways — including for those who want to become parents.” [National Review, 2/26/24; Slate, 2/20/24]
    • A PJ Media article described President Joe Biden’s claim that ending Roe paved the way for IVF restrictions as an “idiotic accusation.” The article also claimed that “Trump, the Republican governors, GOP Senate candidates, and many individual Republicans are running away from the implications of this ruling.” [PJ Media, 2/24/24]
    • Washington Free Beacon reporter Chuck Ross seemingly claimed that “Trump coming out very strongly for IVF threw a kink in their [Democrats’] plans” to blame the former president for abortion and IVF restrictions. [Twitter/X, 2/23/24]
    • On X, right-wing activist Alex Bruesewitz characterized Democrats’ blaming the GOP for restricting IVF access as “a big lie.” Bruesewitz also wrote, “Every Republican I’ve seen, including the leader of our party, @realDonaldTrump, said IVF will be protected.” [Twitter/X, 2/23/24]
    • A Newsmax article titled “Report: House Dems' Super PAC to Attack GOP on IVF” provided cover for Republicans amid the IVF firestorm. The article criticized Democrats' attempts to “wield the power of its purse to attack Republicans” on IVF and quoted a number of pro-IVF Republicans, including Courtney Parella, spokesperson for the Republicans’ Congressional Leadership Fund, who said Democrats’ IVF criticisms are “nothing but a desperate political ploy to deceive voters." [Newsmax, 2/23/24]