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How Republican messaging on IVF could have disastrous effects at the ballot box

From blocking legislation that would make IVF more accessible and affordable for American families, to fetal personhood bills, there could be lasting implications in November. 
An embryologist adds media to petri dishes containing embryos, before freezing the embryos, in Fountain Valley, Calif.
An embryologist adds media to petri dishes containing embryos, before freezing the embryos, in Fountain Valley, Calif., on Feb. 29, 2024. Jay L. Clendenin for The Washington Post via Getty Images file

Gretchen Newton was diagnosed with polycystic ovary syndrome, a hormonal disorder that can make it difficult to conceive. But thanks to IVF, the 26 year old was able to give birth to a baby girl three months ago. Yet, the path to motherhood was anything but easy. Not only was there the hefty price tag (She has accrued more than $20,000 in debt to pay for IVF), but Newton, who lives in Springville, Alabama, also experienced emotional stress over confusion of her reproductive rights.

Newton said going through IVF, has given her a different perspective on where she stands on the Supreme Court’s overturning of Roe v. Wade. In the aftermath of that ruling, Alabama’s Supreme Court ruled that frozen embryos have the same legal rights as children.

As a result, a number of fertility clinics paused their IVF services for fear of legal liability.

“When we were going through IVF, there was a lot of fear of Roe being overturned,” recounted Newton, who considers herself a conservative Christian. “That, you know miscarriage could be considered a murder. And I remember going through a miscarriage and thinking, ‘Oh, God … Will I be tried for something that I didn’t do?’ You’re already going through the emotional turmoil of the miscarriage, and then to add that stress on top.” Newton had previously suffered four miscarriages.

Gretchen Newton with her husband and daughter.
Gretchen Newton with her husband and daughter.Ashley Walker Photography

Amid the national uproar over the state’s decision, Alabama lawmakers eventually signed legislation to protect doctors, clinics and health care personnel who provide IVF. But critics and some health care professionals are concerned the legislation still doesn’t address whether frozen embryos created via IVF have the same rights as children. 

Meanwhile, other states like Georgia and Missouri have enacted personhood rights to include fertilized embryos. And 12 other states have introduced similar fetal personhood legislation. Legal experts say the growing number of fetal personhood laws raise questions on how it will affect IVF access across the country.

“The Alabama decision in particular, for people who have personal experience with IVF was a wakeup call,” political analyst and lawyer Emily Amick said.

With a growing number of Americans supporting IVF — including 78 percent self-identified “pro-life advocates” and 83 percent Evangelicals — voters like Newton have found a personal motivator to get to the polls this November. “Before [my own experience with IVF], it never would have crossed my mind to think about something like this. We’re not a very political household. But now, you know, going through it, it’s changed a lot of my views and a lot of my opinions. And it definitely will change how we vote this year -- my husband included,” she said.  

Research shows that more and more Americans are using fertility treatments in hopes of getting pregnant. Yet, IVF in particular remains largely inaccessible to many Americans due to the exorbitant cost. One round of IVF costs about $20,000. But experts say the cost is closer to $40,000 since it takes, on average, two cycles of IVF to become pregnant.

That, coupled with the overturning of Roe v. Wade, has opened a pandora’s box of laws limiting access to reproductive rights, which have now spilled over to fertility treatments like IVF.

Legislation to make IVF more affordable for American families has also been met with roadblocks from Republicans. On a federal level, legislation like Access to Infertility Treatment and Care Act of 2023, which has been introduced in the House and Senate, would require health insurance coverage for the treatment of infertility, and cover fertility preservation services for individuals who undergo a medically necessary procedure that may cause infertility. So far, the bill maintains no Republican support in either chamber.

Other federal bills that would expand insurance access for military and veteran fertility services including IVF, like the Veteran Families Health Services Act of 2023 and Veterans Infertility Treatment Act of 2023, also lacks Republican support. The Family Building FEHB Fairness Act, which would require federal employee health benefit plans to include assisted reproductive treatment benefits, counts with Rep. Nancy Mace as the only member of the GOP to cosponsor the bill in the House.

For military families like Courtney Deady’s, who have gone through three rounds of IVF and other fertility treatments, those costs out of pocket have been upwards of $100,000. The insurance her husband receives through the military, Tricare, does not cover her treatments. 

“When it comes to how we how we came up with that money, some days I don’t even know. It was paycheck to paycheck. We took out loans,” Deady, 33, explained. From the three IVF cycles over the course of five years, the Deadys, who live in Ohio, have one embryo left, which they hope to transfer successfully in the next six months.

Courtney Deady with her husband and dogs.
Courtney Deady with her husband and dogs.Kylie Jean Photography

Barbara Collura, CEO of Resolve, said she has been asking for GOP support on these type of bills for years. “No Republicans to support our military or veterans’ access to IVF. Not one … It’s great to keep IVF legal, but if no one can access it because of lack of insurance, then we haven’t really fulfilled needs of people who are struggling to build their family.”

Republican legislators — caught between growing support of IVF among their constituents — are now scrambling to finetune their messaging around reproductive rights. In the days and weeks after fertility clinics in Alabama started closing down services, slow but steady vocal support for IVF from Republicans followed.

Former President Trump recently came out with a statement supporting IVF services but saying that issues around abortion, should “be left to the states.”

Other Republicans are following suit in clarifying their positions on IVF. That includes California Congresswoman Michelle Steel, who withdrew her co-sponsorship for the Life at Conception Act (a bill that could threaten use of IVF), just last month. Republican Senate candidate in Michigan, Mike Rogers said he opposes any restrictions on IVF. Meanwhile, his opponent, Democratic Rep. Elissa Slotkin, argued on X, that he’s previously signed four bills in Congress that would do just that.

Meanwhile, President Biden has been vocal on protecting reproductive rights, including urging Congress to pass a law to protect IVF.

In effort to protect IVF services after the Alabama Supreme Court ruling, Democrats in the Senate introduced the Access to Family Building Act which would have protected IVF services nationally. Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.) — a lead sponsor on the bill — said on X, “To all those Republicans who suddenly claim to support IVF—today would be a great day to get out of the way and let the Senate pass my bill to protect access to IVF nationwide.” That Senate bill was ultimately blocked by Republicans. Though just in the last month, four Republicans have signed on to support a similar bill with broad federal protections for IVF.

But Republicans’ inconsistent stance on the issue of IVF could have lasting implications in November, said Democratic pollster Margie Omero. “Voters support access to IVF. They support abortion rights. They support early abortion medication. No matter how you ask it, Republicans are on the wrong side of public opinion, and are playing whack-a-mole with their own unpopular records. IVF is yet another proof point.”

Although Newton said she has not decided which way she will vote this November, her own fertility and IVF experience has her questioning — for the first time — her own voting preferences. “I want to take a second to really think about it, because I do have some conservative views, but I also am big in it’s my body, I should be able to do what I want with it,” Newton said. “I think I’m just waiting on a clear answer from some of these people [politicians]. It’s hard. It’s hard having the conservative views, but also the contradiction of I’ve gone through IVF, and I see what women go through, and I’ve been through it.”