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Republicans, Trump try to contain backlash from Alabama fertility ruling

In a statement on Friday, Trump called on the Alabama legislature to find an immediate solution to preserve the availability of IVF treatments in the state.
Last Updated 24 February 2024, 02:33 IST

Washington: Republican presidential frontrunner Donald Trump and his party are scrambling to contain the fallout from a conservative Alabama court ruling that prompted some state providers to suspend in vitro fertilization treatments, while Democrats seized on the outcome as more evidence that reproductive rights are under assault.

The Republican-controlled Alabama Supreme Court ruled on Feb. 16 that frozen embryos should be considered children, a decision experts said could embolden other states to follow suit.

With Republicans already playing defense on the issue of abortion rights ahead of this year's election, they rushed on Friday to limit the damage of the court's ruling.

In a statement on Friday, Trump called on the Alabama legislature to find an immediate solution to preserve the availability of IVF treatments in the state.

"I strongly support the availability of IVF for couples who are trying to have a precious baby," the former president said in a post on Truth Social.

Democrats, meanwhile, were looking to capitalize on the Alabama ruling. US Senator Elizabeth Warren, a 2020 Democratic presidential candidate, told CNN on Friday that "abortion and IVF are going to be on the ballot in November."

President Joe Biden and the White House have criticized the Alabama ruling, with Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre saying on Friday that "IVF is under attack" and calling on Congress to enact protections.

A White House source told Reuters there is very little the White House can do legally through executive orders to challenge the Alabama ruling.

"The only option is to continue raising the issue, making it a political fight and using the bully pulpit to get more attention," the source said.

After the US Supreme Court in 2022 abolished the constitutional right to obtain an abortion in Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization, the backlash for Republicans in the midterm elections was swift and severe. Democrats were able to retain control of the Senate and limit their losses in the US House of Representatives.

With Biden facing strong headwinds in his re-election bid this year, Democrats are hoping to leverage the abortion issue further to help Biden secure a second term and boost their prospects in Congress. The Alabama ruling could catalyze those efforts, strategists said.

"This is massive," said Jess McIntosh, a Democratic strategist who advises campaigns on abortion-rights issues. "It's honestly landing with a similar explosion to Dobbs."

McIntosh said she had been speaking with women in their 30s and 40s who either have embryos or are counting on IVF to help them conceive and who have been rattled by the decision.

"Women already get that this is enormous and terrifying," she said.

Anti-abortion groups such as Concerned Women for America have praised the ruling. But it has been viewed with alarm by some Republicans who argue that IVF and other fertility treatments are pro-family and should not be lumped in with terminating pregnancies.

Republican governors such as Brian Kemp of Georgia, who signed a ban in 2019 restricting abortions in the state to six weeks, have come out in support of IVF treatments.

Republican presidential candidate Nikki Haley, a strong opponent of abortion, spurred confusion about her position on the Alabama ruling, initially suggesting she agreed but later saying that she does not want to restrict fertility options.

"We don't want fertility treatments to shut down," she said on Thursday.

Strong IVF support in polls

Recent polls conducted by Republican strategist Kellyanne Conway, who worked in the Trump White House, and shared with Reuters showed widespread support for IVF and fertility treatments, even among those who oppose abortion.

According to Conway's firm, 85 per cent of all respondents and 86 per cent of women support increasing access to fertility-related procedures and services for individuals facing challenges in conceiving, including 78 per cent of people who consider themselves anti-abortion and 83 per cent of evangelicals.

More than 2 per cent of all births in the US occur as a result of assisted reproductive technology, mostly through IVF, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

IVF treatment typically involves the creation of multiple embryos in order to maximize the chance of a successful pregnancy, leaving some unused and eventually destroyed as medical waste.

But Friday's ruling held that such embryos are children and people can be held liable for their destruction.

On Friday, the National Republican Senatorial Committee, an arm of the party that supports Senate campaigns, warned candidates in competitive races of the danger posed by the ruling, citing polls such as Conway's.

"When responding to the Alabama Supreme Court ruling, it is imperative our candidates align with the public's overwhelming support for IVF and fertility treatments," said the memo from the NRSC's executive director, Jason Thielman.

Dan Conston, the executive director of the Congressional Leadership Fund, a political action committee that backs House Republican candidates, agreed.

"It's useful and important for swing district Republicans to show empathy, sympathy and clearly voice support for consensus positions like IVF," Conston said in a statement.

Democrats pledged not to let Republicans off the hook.

"Republican Senate candidates have spent years opposing women's right to make their most personal decisions about their health care and their families, and voters will hold them accountable for their record," said David Bergstein, a spokesperson for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.

Greer Donley, a University of Pittsburgh law professor who focuses on abortion law, said the Alabama decision may persuade voters that Republicans will push for further restrictions on reproductive rights if given the chance.

"This is truly the world we're in now," she said. "I think it is really opening the public's eyes to the consequences here."

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(Published 24 February 2024, 02:33 IST)

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