Yes, Republicans Really Are Coming for IVF

This week at a resort in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, delegates at the Republican Oarty convention quietly approved a platform with a retooled “Right to Life” plank. Journalists were barred from the proceedings, but reporter Logan Finney of Idaho Reports obtained the language ahead of the event and, reading it, it’s clear why the party hoped to avoid media attention: Even by Idaho standards — the state is currently fighting the federal government over whether it can force hospitals to let pregnant patients bleed out instead of providing an abortion — it’s extreme.

“We were shocked two years ago when the Idaho Republican Party passed a platform opposing abortion in every case — even when it was necessary to save the life of the patient,” Idaho Democratic Party chair and state Rep. Lauren Necochea tells Rolling Stone. During the GOP convention that year, Necochea says, there was a proposal to carve out an exception in the platform for abortions that would save the mother’s life, but it “was voted down, handily.”

At this year’s gathering, the party ratcheted up that existing language, changing it from a blanket statement opposing abortion at any stage, for any reason, to one that still condemns all abortion, but also opposes in vitro fertilization as it is currently practiced. The new language reads: “We oppose all actions which intentionally end an innocent human life, including abortion, the destruction of human embryos, euthanasia, and assisted suicide.”

In order to have a chance at creating a single successful birth, IVF requires the fertilization of as many embryos as possible; embryos are often cryogenically preserved for extended periods but, once a patient decides their family is complete, they can be donated or destroyed.

If the Idaho GOP’s platform becomes policy, it could threaten access to IVF across the state. There is a good chance it will eventually become policy too: In Idaho, the Republican Party controls the offices of governor, secretary of state, attorney general, as well as both chambers of the state legislature. In recent years, the state party’s hard-right leadership has taken to holding tribunals, censuring and otherwise punishing party members who step out of line.

What’s striking about Idaho Republicans’ opposition to IVF is the fact that it is both considered and deliberate — and it is part of an emboldened Republican movement that could threaten IVF around the country.

That’s something of a reversal from just a few months ago. In Alabama earlier this year, when a state supreme court decision triggered the abrupt suspension of fertility treatment across the state, GOP lawmakers rushed through legislation to shield IVF providers from criminal charges and civil lawsuits, while publicly professing their support for fertility treatments. National Republican figures — including Donald Trump, and his more pious former VP Mike Pence — made similar supportive pronouncements.

But the mask is falling off, and not just in Idaho: Earlier this month, GOP senators blocked a proposal that would have offered federal protection for IVF. In Texas, the state GOP ratified a new platform that promises “equal protection for the preborn,” and asserts fertilized eggs are entitled to “the right to life … from the moment of fertilization.”

As the writer and activist Jessica Valenti has pointed out, that language equates the destruction of embryos with murder. If enacted into policy, it would effectively criminalize anyone who seeks an abortion, in addition to ending IVF access in one the most populous states in the country.

At the same convention, Texas Republicans ratified a plank that would ban “human embryo trafficking” — a measure that could prevent patients from transporting their embryos out of state if fertility treatment comes under threat in Texas, or, as former state Sen. Wendy Davis (D) told HuffPo, be used against pregnant people seeking an abortion outside of Texas.

In Missouri, the GOP reaffirmed that life begins at conception at their convention this year, adding that the party endorses fetal personhood, or “legislation to make clear that the Fourteenth Amendment’s protections apply to unborn children.” Such recognition would threaten access to both abortion and fertility treatments. The Kansas GOP has a similar amendment in its platform this year. Ditto North Carolina.

The committee tasked with overhauling the national Republican Party platform ahead of the convention in Milwaukee next month, meanwhile, is currently weighing whether to retain its own explicit support for fetal personhood — a fixture of the party platform since the 1980s — in this year’s version.

In Idaho, Necochea says, the threat to IVF is very real. Earlier this year, as lawmakers in Alabama were scrambling to find a fix to restore IVF services in the state, Republicans in Idaho were having a very different conversation. “They wanted to replace ‘fetus’ with ‘unborn child’ everywhere in our statute. So they wanted to use inaccurate language based on ideology, and not based on science, and put it into our statute.”

Fertility doctors raised alarms about the change, but, Necochea says, it was an objection from the state’s attorney general that may have slowed that effort. “Our Republican attorney general was worried about it muddying the waters of the EMTALA lawsuit that we have at the Supreme Court right now.”

That case considers whether the Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act, a federal law that requires hospitals to provide stabilizing care for all patients, protects pregnant patients who may need abortions. The law also includes its own reference to an “unborn child.” The Supreme Court is expected to hand down a decision on it in the coming days.

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