Republicans Struggle to Respond as Democrats Emphasize the Alabama I.V.F. Ruling


More than a week after the Alabama Supreme Court declared that frozen embryos produced for in vitro fertilization were people with legal rights, upending fertility care in the state, the ruling is reverberating nationally, putting Republicans on the defensive.

On “State of the Union” on CNN on Sunday, Gov. Greg Abbott of Texas, a Republican supporting former President Donald J. Trump, was asked about the implications of the ruling — made possible by the Supreme Court’s overturning of Roe v. Wade in its 2022 Dobbs decision, which was a result of Mr. Trump’s appointment of three justices.

Mr. Abbott tried to cast I.V.F., which has been available for more than 40 years, as a novel subject confronting legislators.

“Because this is a relatively new issue, we’re just going to have to find ways to navigate laws and facts, situations that are very complicated,” he said.

I.V.F. typically involves creating multiple embryos but implanting only one at a time to maximize the chances of a healthy pregnancy, which means that the remaining embryos are frozen, and that some are never used. Mr. Abbott acknowledged that he did not know the details, saying, “I have no idea mathematically — the number of frozen embryos, is it one, 10, 100, 1,000? Things like that matter.” (One frequently cited 2011 study found that the ideal number of eggs to retrieve was 15, but numbers vary widely based on age and other factors.)

Mr. Abbott also raised questions, such as what happens if someone who has frozen embryos dies or gets divorced, that have long been subjects of discussion among I.V.F. patients, doctors and lawyers.

“I’m not sure everybody has really thought about what all the potential problems are, and, as a result, no one really knows what the potential answers are,” he said when the CNN host Dana Bash asked whether Texas families pursuing I.V.F. “need to worry.”

After the Alabama ruling rocked presidential and congressional campaigns over the past week, Mr. Trump said on Friday that he supported I.V.F. and that Alabama lawmakers should act to protect it. And the executive director of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, the Senate campaign arm of Republicans, said the party’s candidates should “align with the public’s overwhelming support for I.V.F.”

Asked on CNN whether such remarks “undercut” Democrats’ criticism of Republicans, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer of Michigan, a Democrat supporting President Biden’s re-election, said, “Hell, no, it does not.”

“We’ve always known that, with the appointments that Donald Trump made to the United States Supreme Court, that I.V.F., that a woman’s ability to make her own decisions about her body and all the panoply of things that come from that were in jeopardy,” she said. “And so this Alabama Supreme Court ruling is a natural extension of that.”

Gov. Gavin Newsom of California, whose political organization announced an ad campaign on Sunday against a Tennessee bill that would make it a felony for an adult to help a minor obtain an abortion without parental consent, said on NBC News’s “Meet the Press” that Mr. Trump was “still trying to figure out exactly his position because he’s out there celebrating the fact he created these conditions in the first place.”

That was a reference to Mr. Trump’s boasts that, by appointing Justices Neil M. Gorsuch, Brett M. Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court, he had done what Republican presidents before him had not: create a conservative supermajority that overturned Roe v. Wade. Without that, the language in the Alabama Constitution that the state court cited would not have been enforceable.

Many Republicans have struggled to oppose the result of the Alabama ruling while supporting the principle it is based on. Nikki Haley did so on Wednesday, saying it was important to let doctors and patients navigate the I.V.F. process freely while also saying that embryos were people; she subsequently said that just because she believed that, it did not mean everyone had to.

That theme continued on the Sunday morning talk shows, where Representative Byron Donalds, Republican of Florida, walked back earlier comments in which he had told a reporter that he agreed embryos were children. Mr. Donalds told NBC on Sunday that he had only “heard half her question, but do I support the I.V.F. procedure? One hundred percent I do.” He added that he would be open to federal legislation to protect I.V.F., depending on the details.

On “This Week” on ABC News, Senator Tammy Duckworth, an Illinois Democrat who had her children through I.V.F. and who has introduced a bill to protect it, said that “not a single Republican” senator had contacted her to sign on to her bill.

“Republicans will say whatever they need to say to try to cover themselves on this, but they’ve been clear,” Ms. Duckworth said. “And Donald Trump has been the guy leading this effort to eliminate women’s reproductive rights and reproductive choice.”

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