Mosaic image of three-day-old IVF embryos.

Photo by AWelshLad on Canva

IVF support from “pro-lifers” reveals their insidious motivations

Written by Olivia Nater | Published: February 29, 2024

A recent Alabama Supreme Court ruling based on absurd abortion ban logic risks taking away people’s right to in vitro fertilization (IVF) services. In response to the ruling, many anti-choice politicians, including Donald Trump, rushed to declare their support for IVF, demonstrating that their “pro-life” stance is motivated primarily by a desire to force women into childbirth rather than actual concern for the earliest stages of human life.

On February 16, the Alabama Supreme Court ruled with an 8-1 majority that frozen embryos are “unborn children,” resulting in several clinics in the state suspending their IVF services out of fear of legal repercussions. Under the ruling, frozen embryos have the same rights as children, meaning their accidental or intentional destruction would constitute a wrongful death.

The ruling represents yet another setback for reproductive rights in the United States and a win for Christian fundamentalists who are aggressively pursuing “fetal personhood” laws, which argue that embryos and fetuses should have the same rights as people.

What is IVF?

Colored light micrograph of a micro-needle about to inject human sperm into a human egg cell (centre) being held in place by a pipette. Photo by SciencePhotoLibrary on Canva

IVF is offered to people who have trouble conceiving naturally, or those who wish to maintain a chance of having biological children when medical factors or age can make this difficult. It’s a lengthy process that involves inducing ovulation with fertility medication, removing eggs from the patient’s ovaries, and combining them with sperm in the laboratory. Resulting embryos are then either implanted in the patient’s womb or frozen for later use.

As only a fraction of in vitro fertilized eggs develop into healthy, mature embryos, and not all implanted embryos result in pregnancy, doctors usually fertilize more eggs than are needed to help maximize the patient’s chance of fulfilling their desired number of children. Once a patient has completed their family, the spare embryos are either destroyed or donated to other patients or to medical research. IVF embryos sometimes also undergo genetic testing, with those at greatest risk of hereditary disease being discarded.

With infertility on the rise, IVF has become an important form of reproductive assistance. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), approximately 2 percent of U.S. babies born each year are conceived via assisted reproductive technology (ART), mainly IVF.

Why are some lawmakers attacking IVF?

The Alabama Supreme Court ruling is the first U.S. ruling to endanger IVF access. This attack on reproductive technologies was long predicted by reproductive rights advocates because it is a logical extension of abortion bans based on “fetal personhood” laws.

The U.S. Supreme Court’s overturning of the constitutional right to abortion in June 2022 was based on this same religiously motivated, unscientific belief, and paved the way for countless more reproductive rights restrictions. Since the Dobbs ruling, 21 states have banned or heavily restricted abortions, putting millions of women and girls at serious risk.

Anti-choice hypocrisy reveals true motivations

Under the Life at Conception Act, which has been introduced in the House of Representatives multiple times in recent years and currently has 124 Republican co-sponsors (in addition to the original sponsor, Alexander Mooney [R-WV-2]), individual personhood begins at fertilization, meaning even a zygote (a single-celled, fertilized egg) would have the same right to life and protection as babies and children.

Many members of Congress who co-sponsored this bill, as well as other anti-choice politicians, recently came out in support of IVF. Donald Trump, who often brags about being responsible for overturning the constitutional right to abortion through his Supreme Court justice appointments, also stated he “strongly supports” the availability of IVF and called on Alabama lawmakers to find “an immediate solution.”

Politicians who support fetal personhood to ban abortion but want to make an exception for IVF indicate that they only care about “the unborn” if it involves forcing a woman to give birth. This hypocrisy also reveals the pronatalist inclinations of right-wing conservatives who want to boost the birth rate and slash immigration. Their policy stances often reflect the Great Replacement conspiracy theory, which argues that white, Christian people need to have more babies to avoid being “replaced” by people of color with higher birth rates.

Affirming his support for IVF and Trump’s comments, Texas Governor Greg Abbott, who signed into law a draconian six-week abortion ban, said,

“We as a state want to ensure that we promote life, we bring more life into the world, and we empower parents to be able to have more children.”

Alabama Senator Tommy Tuberville displayed how fetal personhood beliefs conflict with conservatives’ push for more births at the Conservative Political Action Conference last week. He said he “was all for” the Alabama Supreme Court ruling, but also that “we need to have more kids.” When reporters pointed out that ending IVF would make it more difficult for many couples to have kids, he deflected and was unable to provide a coherent response.

Several conservative pronatalists have even spoken out against modern contraception, saying sex should be for procreative purposes only. Elon Musk, father of ten and influential “baby bust” fearmonger, posted on X earlier this month that “hormonal birth control makes you fat, doubles risk of depression & triples risk of suicide. This is the clear scientific consensus, but very few people seem to know it.”

Let’s shut down this misogynist circus

The ongoing attacks on reproductive rights were clearly never about “protecting life.” They were always about subjugating women and forcing them back into traditional childbearing roles. IVF must remain accessible to all who want it, just as restrictions on abortion care must be lifted. Politicians who support IVF but not abortion rights need to be confronted by the absurdity of their logic. Reproductive rights are not an à la carte menu — it’s time to move forward with legislation that will help ensure full bodily autonomy for all.

Urge your members of Congress to support the Women’s Health Protection Act (WHPA) today! WHPA will codify the federal right to abortion, preventing state governments from imposing onerous and unnecessary restrictions on a safe, common, and often necessary medical procedure. Take action here.