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New polls spotlight the GOP’s IVF dilemma

The Alabama Supreme Court this month ignited a debate over in vitro fertilization (IVF). Democrats could scarcely be more anxious to have that debate — and Republicans could scarcely be more uneasy about it.

The most recent developments: Alabama Republicans rushed to pass legislation to protect IVF in the state, which the state Supreme Court jeopardized when it ruled that embryos are children. But Republicans in Congress are largely begging off the need for federal legislation. As she did in 2022, Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-Miss.) blocked a bill from Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.) that would establish a federal right to assistive reproductive care like IVF.

(Hyde-Smith claimed that the bill featured “poison pills” that would “subject religious and pro-life organizations to crippling lawsuits.” She also wagered that the bill would “legalize the creation of human-animal chimeras.”)

Democrats are now accusing Hyde-Smith and the GOP of insufficient and disingenuous support for IVF. Republicans offered a procession of statements backing IVF last week after an extraordinary Senate GOP memo warning of the political danger of avoiding the subject.

It’s become clear that Republicans would prefer to say they support IVF, let the Alabama legislature fix their state’s problem, and be done with it. But the Alabama Supreme Court also spotlighted how that might not be possible in a post-Roe v. Wade world. Supporting the concept of people having babies through IVF is one thing; accounting for the routine disposal of embryos, a part of IVF protocol, is quite another.

Some new polling gets at the dilemma for the GOP.

An Axios/Ipsos poll Wednesday effectively asked about the Alabama Supreme Court decision — the idea that embryos are children and that those who destroy them can be held legally responsible. Americans opposed this more than 2 to 1, 66 percent to 31 percent.

But Republicans were evenly split: 49-49.

The story was virtually the same in an Economist/YouGov poll. It got into a little more detail, noting that IVF creates embryos that are not used before asking whether un-implanted embryos should be considered children.

Americans said embryos were not children by a 50 percent to 21 percent margin. But Republicans were again about evenly split: 31 percent said they were children, while 32 percent said they were not. (More than one-third were undecided.)

Then we get to the rub. The same poll asked whether people supported IVF and what they thought of its morality. Republicans said 58-13 that IVF should be legal, and just 14 percent said it was “morally wrong.”

In other words, there is not a huge segment of the party that condemns IVF; there is, however a significant chunk that regards embryos as children — as much as half. And that’s a difficult thing to account for, because IVF leads to discarded embryos.

This isn’t the only evidence of a stumbling block for the GOP, if it’s forced to reckon with the details.

A 2022 YouGov poll asked people about when they thought life began, offering a series of options. About half of Republicans said it began when an egg is fertilized (before it is implanted). This is basically the stage at which unused embryos exist in IVF.

That view aligns with a proposal supported by a strong majority of House Republicans — the Life at Conception Act — which would define personhood to include “the moment of fertilization.”

One supporter is House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.), among his party’s leading Christian conservatives. But on Thursday, Johnson wasn’t anxious to square his views on when life begins with his professed support for IVF.

Asked whether he regarded discarding embryos as murder, Johnson avoided a direct answer.

“Look, I believe in the sanctity of every human life — always have,” Johnson said. “And because of that, I support IVF and its availability.”

About the closest he came to addressing the question was saying that IVF “needs to be handled in an ethical manner.”

Republicans are clearly hoping that these boilerplate responses will suffice. Alabama showed how they might not.

That’s because their broad professed support for IVF is difficult to reconcile with much of their party’s broad view of when life begins.

This article has been updated.

This post appeared first on The Washington Post

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