Abigail Spanberger vows to protect IVF, abortion access for Virginia women

Abigail Spanberger vows to protect IVF, abortion access for Virginia women

Photo courtesy of Abigail Spanberger

By Bonnie Fuller

February 29, 2024

“My heart breaks for the families of Alabama,” says Congresswoman Abigail Spanberger, promising to stand for reproductive freedom in Virginia while backing federal legislation to protect every American’s right to access IVF 

Virginia’s Abigail Spanberger says she is devastated for the women of Alabama who have been stripped of access to in vitro fertilization (IVF) treatment while struggling with infertility, thanks to a recent ruling by the state’s Supreme Court. 

“In the wake of the Dobbs decision, it was clear to many of us that those on the right would continue their steady attacks on our freedoms,” she told Dogwood in an exclusive statement.

“And while these attacks began with the loss of abortion and privacy rights, they continue with threats to birth control access—and now to the freedom to build a family through IVF.” 

Spanberger is one of Virginia’s 11 representatives in Congress. The former CIA officer is a Democrat, and she’s also running in the 2025 Virginia governor race. 

Spanberger’s comments came after the Feb. 16 Alabama Supreme Court ruling that, for the first time in our country’s history, gave frozen embryos used in IVF treatments the same rights as live children. The ruling sent many Alabama families scrambling to understand if they’d be guilty of a crime should they continue—or not continue—with their fertility treatments. It also effectively closed the major IVF treatment centers throughout the state.

“I think that women’s rights are going to continue to be a central issue for the electorate,” she said in an exclusive interview with Dogwood. “Here, in the Commonwealth of Virginia, we are the last state in the South to not have imposed more restrictive laws after the [Supreme Court’s] Dobbs decision.

“And we are watching what is happening in neighboring states. And certainly the whole world is watching what is happening in places like Ohio and Texas where women are being turned away from essential care and forced to face the threat of losing their own lives, of losing their fertility, and this is very real.”

The Alabama court was able to make their ruling in the wake of the US Supreme Court’s overturning of Roe v. Wade, via the 2022 Dobbs v. Jackson case. Roe had, since 1973, held that privacy in decisions regarding abortion was a fundamental right for all Americans under the Fourteenth Amendment of the US Constitution. 

With the fall of Roe, the Alabama Supreme Court was able to enforce a 2018 state constitutional amendment that recognized the sanctity of unborn life and the rights of unborn children, including the right to life.

The entire Alabama Supreme Court is made up of Republican justices. Five of the nine terms end in 2025, and will be on the 2024 Alabama ballot. 

Six of nine justices on the US Supreme Court that overturned Roe are Republicans—three of whom were appointed by Donald Trump. US Supreme Court justices are not elected. Rather, they’re appointed by presidents, and their terms are for life.

The Alabama court’s ruling means that anyone in Alabama who destroys or discards any embryos during the IVF process—even if done accidentally or because the embryos are genetically nonviable—can be sued for negligence and held liable for monetary damages under the state’s Wrongful Death of a Minor Act, which dates back to 1872.

The ruling puts doctors, embryologists, nurses, IVF clinics, and hospitals at potential risk of bankruptcy due to lawsuits for wrongful death.

In less than two weeks since the historic ruling, three of the state’s seven IVF clinics have stopped providing IVF procedures, leaving hundreds of Alabamians—many who have spent exorbitant sums of money on fertility treatments with the hope of starting a family—in limbo and distraught.

Spanberger, who represents Virginia’s Seventh District in Congress, is determined to help these IVF patients and other constituents. She had hoped that by backing legislation to protect every American’s right to access IVF—through the Access to Family Building Act—she and other US leaders could make the right to “assisted reproductive technology services, including IVF” part of federal law.

Yesterday, Feb. 28, Democratic Sen. Tammy Duckworth of Illinois sought a unanimous vote on that act by the Senate. However, her move—which required the approval of all 100 senators to progress—was blocked by Mississippi Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith.

The Access to Family Building Act may be brought up again in a non-unanimous vote process that takes longer to work through both the Senate and the US House of Representatives. If passed, it would override the Alabama Supreme Court—or any state lawmakers who want to punish health care providers for trying to help Americans who struggle with infertility to start or grow their families.  

Since IVF’s introduction as an infertility treatment in 1978, just under 100,000 babies have been born as a result of the process each year—that’s 2.3% of annual births in the US, according to the CDC.

That is, until now.

Since the US Supreme Court overruled Roe v. Wade and allowed each state to regulate abortion on its own terms, abortion has already been banned in 14 states and highly restricted in seven others, many times without exceptions for rape, incest, or sometimes even the health of the mother. 

Alabama bans abortion at all stages of pregnancy except to save the life of the mother or to prevent serious risk to the pregnant person’s physical health.

Anyone committing an abortion in Alabama can be found guilty of a Class A felony, punishable by up to 99 years. So it’s not surprising that state health care providers are unsure how to continue to provide IVF services, when they could also possibly face criminal charges for any unintended destruction of embryos.

Spanberger reassures Virginians

Reassuring Virginians that she will work to protect their reproductive freedom, Spanberger pledged to Dogwood that, should she be elected governor, she would work tirelessly “to prevent politicians and judges from intruding into personal reproductive health care and family-planning decisions. We cannot allow our Commonwealth to move backward, and we will certainly not make it harder for hopeful parents to decide when and how to grow their families.”

In November 2023, Virginians rejected current Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s proposal of a 15-week abortion ban. Virginia voters went on to elect Democratic majorities in the state’s House of Delegates and Senate, amplifying their message that they want the commonwealth to remain a safe space for abortion care.

Since then, Virginia’s Democratic legislators have introduced a constitutional amendment to protect abortion access in the state. Because putting a constitutional amendment on the ballot is a multi-year process, however, it may not reach voters until November 2026. 

“The reason that our General Assembly is currently in majority Democratic hands is because they pledged to move forward in trying to protect through legislation a woman’s right to an abortion,” said Spanberger, who has a long record in Congress of proposing and supporting legislation to protect health care and reproductive rights. “Protecting rights and protecting privacy is extraordinarily popular in Virginia.” 

Spanberger also has a personal reason for supporting every American’s freedom to make decisions about their own body and family.

“I’m a mother of three daughters and I just fundamentally do not believe that as an individual or a lawmaker, I have a right to tell other women what choices they should make,” she said. “And I’ll tell you across my [Congressional] campaigns, particularly in 2022 after the fall of Roe and after the Dobbs decision, I heard it across the board in all areas of my district—from men, from women, from grandparents to young people—who were horrified at the realities that we were starting to see.”

The aspiring governor reports that, during the commonwealth’s state elections in 2023, concerns over losing reproductive freedom were a “top priority for voters, and not just for Democratic voters, but for voters who value privacy, for voters who value their rights, and for voters who just don’t believe that a legislator—be they in Richmond or in Washington, DC—should be dictating the choices available to women.”

Trump’s path of destruction

Donald Trump, the likely Republican presidential nominee, has repeatedly boasted about controlling women’s reproductive freedoms.

“For 54 years they were trying to get Roe v. Wade terminated, and I did it. And I’m proud to have done it,” Trump said during a recent Fox News Town Hall.

He also bragged on his social media platform, Truth Social, that, “After 50 years of failure, with nobody coming even close I was able to kill Roe v. Wade, much to the ‘shock’ of everyone. Without me, there would be no 6 weeks, 10 weeks, 15 weeks or whatever is finally agreed to. Without me, the pro Life movement would have just kept losing.”

Spanberger acknowledges that if Trump returns to power in November, he could sign a national abortion ban or utilize tools such as the Comstock Act or departments like the FDA to essentially ban abortion throughout the country. If he were to do that, she said, state constitutional amendments and laws could be overridden—even in states that have protected reproductive rights in recent years. 

“I have deep, deep concerns that in the event of another Trump presidency, we would see an assault on all these rights,” Spanberger said. “But quite frankly, in the event of another presidency, we would see an assault on a laundry list of our rights. Certainly abortion rights or reproductive freedom would be just one of many that I would expect he’d trample on. And it’s not my supposition, it’s based on the things he said.”

Protecting Virginians against an autocratic president is one of the reasons that Spanberger says she is looking to leave her seat in Congress, where she supported President Joe Biden’s major legislative achievements—including the Infrastructure and Jobs Act, the Inflation Reduction Act and the CHIPS and Science Act—to run for governor.

“There are so many issues at the state level that I want to focus on—strengthening public schools, keeping our communities safe, lowering the costs that Virginia families face every year, and protecting our fundamental rights here in the commonwealth,” she said. “I’m a mother of three school-age girls, and frankly my focus is ensuring that the commonwealth that I grew up in, the commonwealth where I moved back home to raise my kids, is as strong as it can be.”

  • Bonnie Fuller

    Bonnie Fuller is the former CEO & Editor-in-Chief of HollywoodLife.com, and the former Editor-in-Chief of Glamour, Cosmopolitan, Marie Claire, USWeekly and YM. She now writes about politics and reproductive rights.

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