Vigilance on the IVF Front

Terry Schwadron
5 min readJun 18, 2024

Terry H. Schwadron

June 18, 2024

Once again, either because they feel themselves trapped by looking as if they oppose yet another front in the culture wars — in vitro fertilization — or because they really do oppose the widespread practice, Senate Republicans last week revolted and narrowly said no to a bill to protect IVF nationally.

And once again, it makes no political sense for Senate Republicans to fan political fires around a bill they insist is addressing a non-existent problem.

The vote came on a procedural call rather than the issue. “Why should we vote for a bill that fixes a non-existent problem? There’s not a problem. There’s no restriction on IVF, nor should there be,” Republican Sen. John Cornyn of Texas, said.

Oh, but there is a building “problem” in states like Alabama where legislatures eager to enact anti-abortion statutes are drawing them in such a way as to affect miscarriages gone wrong or high-risk pregnancies in which women are being denied emergency health care or in IVF settings, where frozen eggs increasingly are being seen as potential humans.

Some 10,000 Southern Baptists — the organization represents 13 million — voted last week “to reaffirm the unconditional value and right to life of every human being, including those in an embryonic stage, and to only utilize reproductive technologies consistent with that affirmation, especially in the number of embryos generated in the I.V.F. process.”

Basically, they want an end to IVF procedures, however achieved, with what Washington Post columnist David von Drehle notes “the perverse result is that the supposed champions of families and babies are targeting the very families that want babies the most.”

As with political scheming about limiting contraceptives, barring abortion medications, attacking insurance policies, threatening doctors and nurses, the anti-abortion movement is eyeing IVF along the road to legislative victories declaring fetal personhood. Even last week’s decision by the Supreme Court underscoring legality for continued distribution of abortion medications over the issue of whether litigants had “standing” to sue contained the seeds of further battles over health and morality issues.

Senator Cornyn can vote how he wants, of course, but he shouldn’t be sweeping away the obvious interest in building on the abortion battles to date.

The Southern Baptist Vote

It’s all being especially teed up now as Republicans and Democrats try to paint one another in an election year as extremist over abortion, sexual issues, and culture issues more generally.

It’s two years since the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade and invited a raft of state and national legislative efforts on the subjects.

In this bill, Senate Democrats had sought to enshrine into federal law a right for individuals to receive IVF treatment as well as for doctors to provide treatment, which would override any attempt at the state level to restrict access. It also would mandate

coverage for fertility treatments under employer-sponsored insurance and certain public insurance plans and to extend coverage to military families.

The vote followed the Alabama’s Supreme Court decision stopping IVF and requiring emergency Alabama legislation to make IVF legal again.

Southern Baptist delegates, for instance, expressed alarm Wednesday over the way in vitro fertilization is routinely being practiced, approving a resolution lamenting that the creation of surplus frozen embryos often results in “destruction of embryonic human life.”

The New York Times explained that it was the first time that attendees at the Southern Baptist meeting have addressed the ethics of in vitro fertilization directly. The resolution is not a ban and will have no binding effect on families pursuing fertility treatments, and there was testimony at the meeting from members whose families had been born only as the result of IVF.

During IVF, human eggs are fertilized with sperm in a lab, and often frozen. It is the destruction of extra eggs that is driving the current issue, an act being equated with abortion. The resolution called on Southern Baptists to “advocate for the government to restrain” actions inconsistent with the dignity of “every human being, which necessarily includes frozen embryonic human beings.”

Where Is This Going?

Putting all the efforts together, it seems clear that “fetal personhood” may be the next front for the anti-abortion movement. The Supreme Court abortion decision, known as Dobbs, reopened arguments from legal theorists and lawmakers that fetuses, starting at the earliest stages, should be granted the same legal protections as any person.

At heart, of course, this is subject matter for deeply personal, moral belief, and not usually the subject of law that would impose a religious mindset on all.

That’s why the unchecked, recorded comments of Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito last week, endorsing a role for the court to pursue a nation of “godliness,” drew wide reaction. The court’s role is to decide issues before it as fairly as possible, not to join in a hidden campaign to make this country into a white, Christian nation.

Of course those promoting fetal personhood see no need to provide more public money for raising of those eventual would-be children or to provide for medical care for those directly affected.

Washington Post columnist Eugene Robinson sees Republicans pursuing a war on women, and wonders aloud how the religious Right, that calls itself pro-life, can argue for laws to ban medical help for women who want pregnancy and are desperate about it.

“For women who battle infertility at some point in their childbearing years — and who can afford the expensive procedure — IVF is nothing short of a miracle. According to a report issued in March by the Department of Health and Human Services, more than 2 percent of U.S. infants born in 2021, the most recent year for which figures are available, were conceived through IVF,” he notes. He adds that zealots pursuing fetal personhood — embryonic personhood in IVF — as a “Handmaid’s Tale” type of control over women’s bodies are headed.

Mixing particular religious beliefs among some with mandated law for all is a danger whenever it appears. Senator Cornyn, who may be the new Senate Republican leader, and colleagues who think protective bills are just political theater, ought to get out a little more into the world if they want us to respect their opinions.