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Senate GOP campaign arm urges candidates to back IVF after Alabama court ruling

The Senate GOP campaign arm is urging candidates to back IVF following an Alabama Supreme Court Ruling.
Mariam Zuhaib
The Senate GOP campaign arm is urging candidates to back IVF following an Alabama Supreme Court Ruling.

Senate Republicans' campaign arm is counseling candidates to "clearly and concisely reject" any efforts to restrict access to in-vitro fertilization (IVF) treatments days after an Alabama court ruling that frozen embryos are considered children drove the issue into the 2024 campaign.

The move demonstrates the persistent concern from party leaders about being out of step with voters on reproductive issues after the issue of abortion rights helped Democrats win many competitive races across the country in the 2022 midterms.

In a memo obtained by NPR, the executive director of the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC) warned Senate GOP candidates that the Alabama Supreme Court ruling could be "fodder for Democrats hoping to manipulate the abortion issue for electoral gain." The memo provides polling and suggested messages for candidates on the issue.

On Wednesday President Biden called the Alabama decision "outrageous and unacceptable."

GOP presidential candidate Nikki Haley, who struggled with infertility issues, told NBC that "embryos, to me, are babies."

Former President Trump, the leading contender for the 2024 GOP presidential nomination, avoided the issue immediately following the ruling, but on Friday posted a message on his social media channel backing IVF and calling on the Alabama legislature to "preserve the availability of IVF" in the state. He said "we want to make it easier for mothers and father to have babies, not harder!"

Trump has not specifically stated his position on what, if any, federal action he would back on abortion restrictions, but he repeatedly touts that he appointed three of the Supreme Court justices who helped overturn Roe v. Wade in 2022.

The NRSC memo cited data from GOP pollster and former Trump White House adviser Kellyanne Conway showing "a staggering 85% of all respondents, including 86% of women, support increasing access to fertility-related procedures and services." The memo urges candidates to use messages supporting IVF and opposing restrictions and "framing such opposition as a defense of family values and individual freedom."

After a day of silence, GOP candidates speak out

There was evidence some candidates were quick to heed the advice. Ohio businessman Bernie Moreno, a candidate in the GOP primary to run against Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, sent a message on social media stating "I'm in favor of anything that promotes people having more babies and strong families."

Brown shot back that Moreno — and the two other Republicans in the race — opposed a statewide ballot initiative that was approved by voters in 2023 that added protections for abortion services to the state's constitution.

"Women should have the ability and right to have a family on their own terms and that includes having access to fertility treatments like IVF," Brown said. "Bernie Moreno, Frank LaRose, and Matt Dolan have already made their position on this issue clear: they opposed Issue 1 and now want to overrule the majority of Ohioans who supported it — no memo from Mitch McConnell can change that."

David Bergstein, spokesman for the Senate Democrats' campaign committee, argued the GOP's record on reproductive rights "speaks for itself" and added, "Republican Senate candidates have spent years opposing women's right to make their most personal decisions about their health care and their families, and voters will hold them accountable for their record."

Political fallout from the decision spreads

Lawmakers in Alabama are already moving to pass legislation protect IVF, and GOP Gov. Kay Ivey told NPR member station WBHM in a statement that she would sign it.

Congress could move to enact federal legislation, with top Democrats moving quickly to contrast with the GOP on reproductive freedom issues. Illinois Democratic Sen. Tammy Duckworth, who gave birth to two daughters using IVF, sponsored a bill in January with Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., to ensure access to IVF and other reproductive technology. Duckworth said in a statement on Tuesday she was worried after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade in 2022 states would move next to restrict fertility treatments and said the Alabama decision "proves that we were right to be worried." She called on Congress to pass her legislation. In the House Pennsylvania Democrat Susan Wild sponsored a similar measure. One Republican, Florida Rep. Anna Paulina Luna, was listed as a co-sponsor, but her office told NPR she was added without her permission and will be requesting to be removed next week.

South Carolina GOP Rep. Nancy Mace, campaigning for Trump on Friday, told NPR she plans to file a resolution in the House next week "showing support for IVF. That would be a natural next step, and look at ways that we can protect womens' access to IVF — should be a priority for us."

--NPR's Lexie Schapitl and Stephen Fowler contributed to this story

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Deirdre Walsh is the congress editor for NPR's Washington Desk.