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Why the Alabama IVF ruling has caught Republicans in a bind of their own making

Their decadeslong campaign against abortion rights has led them to implement deeply unpopular policies.


The Alabama Supreme Court’s decision on in vitro fertilization has thrust a previously apolitical issue into the spotlight. And Republicans are struggling to formulate a coherent stance on it, showing just how much of a bind their extreme anti-abortion position has put them in.

Take GOP presidential hopeful Nikki Haley. She first seemed to express support for the court’s decision, telling NBC News on Wednesday that she believes embryos "are babies." Then she told CNN later, "I didn’t say that I agreed with the Alabama ruling. What the question that I was asked is, ‘Do I believe an embryo is a baby?’ I do think that if you look in the definition, an embryo is considered an unborn baby."

The next day, she gave another confusing response to CNN, expressing concern over three Alabama fertility clinics pausing IVF services and saying that state lawmakers should "go back and look at the law."

Then there's Alabama's own Sen. Tommy Tuberville who, as my MSNBC colleague Steve Benen detailed, had a similarly hard time squaring his support for the ruling — which he admitted he hadn't read — with the sweeping impact it would have on fertility treatments in his state.

South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott, who had vowed to enact a six-week abortion ban during his failed run for the GOP presidential nomination, evaded the question completely. "Well," he told reporters Thursday, "I haven't studied the issue."

Since the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade in 2022, reproductive rights have proved to be a losing issue for Republicans. The Alabama decision, which ruled that state law must treat frozen embryos as people, is a consequence of the right's relentless push to enshrine in the law its belief that life begins at conception.

The ruling has divided the GOP. Even as members of its own party celebrated the ruling, the National Republican Senatorial Committee issued a memo Friday encouraging candidates to “oppose any efforts to restrict access to IVF and other fertility treatments.” What the memo doesn’t address is how to square the GOP position that life begins at conception with the practical realities of managing stockpiles of frozen embryos to which they want to grant equal rights under the law.

This is a dilemma entirely of Republicans' own making. For decades, the party has championed an anti-abortion stance and encouraged officials and lawmakers to follow its logic to the most extreme conclusions. They are now in the difficult situation of explaining why the outcome of that position is not one they've wanted all along.