Far-right groups push to limit IVF access

Kristen Eichamer, center, talks to fairgoers in the Project 2025 tent at the Iowa State Fair, Aug. 14, 2023, in Des Moines, Iowa. With more than a year to go before the 2024 election, a constellation of conservative organizations is preparing for a possible second White House term for Donald Trump. The Project 2025 effort is being led by the Heritage Foundation think tank. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

By Sophie Boudreau

April 4, 2024

Despite recent polling showing that 86% of American adults believe in-vitro fertilization (IVF) treatment should be legal for women trying to conceive, far-right groups like the Heritage Foundation continue their quest to dismantle IVF access by employing tactics used by anti-choice activists in the decades-long battle against abortion rights and Roe v. Wade.

For many Americans, IVF presents a hopeful path to parenthood amid fertility barriers. According to the US Department of Health and Human Services, 2.3% of all infants born in the US in 2021 were conceived via IVF or other forms of assisted reproductive technology (ART).

“Individuals may choose to use IVF for a variety of reasons, including that they are not yet ready to have a child but want to preserve their fertility options for the future,” a statement on the department’s website reads. “For instance, this could be done prior to receiving certain treatments for cancer, sickle cell anemia, or lupus, which can cause infertility.”

Anti-choice leaders compare IVF to ‘eugenics’

IVF took center stage in February when Alabama’s Supreme Court passed a ruling declaring embryos had the same rights as children, a move that threatened to limit or eliminate access to IVF treatments in the state.

While additional legislation was passed to protect Alabama IVF clinics and patients from criminal charges for damaging or destroying unused embryos—a common occurrence during the IVF process, as embryos are screened for viability—the initial ruling emphasized broader concerns about how anti-abortion groups might take aim at the fertility industry, especially in the event of a second presidential term for Donald Trump.

Project 2025, the controversial blueprint outlined by the Heritage Foundation as a guide to policy priorities during a second Trump term, minces no words when it comes to heavily regulating IVF access.

And in a March post from the Foundation, Senior Research Associate Emma Waters said that Congress should set standards to “prevent the wanton or careless destruction of embryonic human beings,” eliminate pre-implantation genetic testing that provides information about the health of each embryo, limit the number of embryos created per round of IVF, and even prohibit anonymous sperm and egg donation.

There are profound moral issues with the way IVF is practiced in the U.S.—in many cases, amounting to eugenics,” wrote Waters.

‘Back-door’ tactics to limit reproductive rights

The restrictive policies detailed by proponents of Project 2025 are comparable to tactics used by far-right groups in the fight to dismantle abortion rights. Instead of strictly calling for an outright ban on all abortions—or, in this case, IVF treatments—groups like the Heritage Foundation take a “back-door” approach by pushing for strict regulations that chip away at the ability of providers and patients to complete treatment.

The American Society for Reproductive Medicine says that “back-door” tactics like classifying embryos as children or eliminating genetic testing options would effectively operate as an IVF ban by making the procedure more dangerous and harder to access.

Patients could face significantly increased costs and additional unnecessary or risky procedures. For providers, this legal standard could be leveraged to force them to perform embryo transfers where the embryos have a low probability of implanting or leading to a live birth,” the group said in a statement last month. “Patients would then have to suffer the physical and emotional anguish of facing a pregnancy that would never lead to a living child.”

Tapping into evangelicals, Republicans for support

Mirroring their tactics for anti-abortion activism, anti-choice groups have targeted evangelical Christians and pro-life Republicans as vehicles for expanding support among voters who have yet to take definitive stances on IVF. The Heritage Foundation and Project 2025 have made connecting with religious groups and conservative Christian leaders—many of whom have also yet to publicly address the topic of IVF—a pillar of their work ahead of the 2024 election.

In a January Heritage Foundation post, Waters outlined the need for deeper consideration of topics like infertility and surrogacy within the conservative Christian community.

“The assault on what it means to be human, from sexuality to artificial creations of human life, requires Christians to stand firm in their support for the integrity of marriage, sex, and procreation,” she wrote. “Moral ambiguity will only breed more hardship in the life of the Church. Protestant denominations and leaders must carve a courageous vision forward about the good news of biblical anthropology.”

While arguments against IVF have not yet gained the political support long enjoyed by the anti-abortion movement, Republicans have continually endorsed restrictive reproductive rights legislation, including last year’s “Life at Conception Act.” Signed by 125 Congressional Republicans, the bill states that the term “human being” encompasses life at all stages, including the moment of conception or fertilization. It does not include exceptions for IVF.

Bills like this set the stage for further so-called “fetal personhood” legislation, which could make IVF an impossibility for would-be parents who rely on fertility treatments as a source of hope.

In a statement responding to the initial Alabama IVF ruling, American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists President Verda J. Hicks, MD, said that such restrictions could harm patients by “unjustly and unfairly denying them the ability to build their families through a critical, effective fertility intervention that represents one of the most significant medical advances of the last century.”

She continued, “The removal of options for preserving fertility is an unconscionable act of inhumanity to add to existing suffering—one that I, as a physician who cares for patients with cancer, feel deeply.”

Trump takes credit for anti-choice policies

Meanwhile, Trump has taken personal credit for the repeal of Roe v. Wade and vowed to support increasingly extreme anti-choice policies—like a full national abortion ban—if reelected. Trump’s team has even run Facebook ads for Iowa voters touting the former leader as “THE MOST Pro-Life President In History.”

IVF providers and patients are heartened by legal protections like the ones passed in response to Alabama’s embryonic personhood ruling, but uncertainty remains.

In a statement, Democratic National Committee spokesperson Aida Ross said that groups like the Heritage Foundation and Republicans in Congress who support fetal personhood efforts are “saying the quiet part out loud.”

They’re making it clear that their goal is to make it harder for Americans to start or grow their families—but voters will reject their dangerous, anti-choice extremism in November,” she said.

  • Sophie Boudreau

    Sophie Boudreau is a writer and editor with nearly a decade of experience covering lifestyle, culture, and political topics. She previously served as senior editor at eHow and produced Michigan and Detroit content for Only In Your State.

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