Republicans Are Pushing Fetal ‘Personhood’ After Alabama’s IVF Mess

Conservatives really want you to think they support reproductive freedom—all while drafting fetal "personhood" legislation.

Collage of the White House, Kellyanne Conway, Joe Biden, Kamala Harris, and the flags of Iowa, Alabama, and Oklahoma.
Alabama's supreme court hard launched the concept of "fetal personhood" to the American public. Austen Risolvato/Rewire News Group

This piece first appeared in our weekly newsletter, The Fallout.

The Alabama Supreme Court decision declaring in vitro fertilization (IVF) embryos “people” under the law hard launched the concept of so-called fetal personhood to much of the American public and underscored what abortion rights advocates had warned for decades: The decision to overturn Roe v. Wade will affect much more than just the right to abortion.

The immediate fallout from the Alabama Supreme Court decision spawned a flurry of media coverage focused on conservative extremism, so much so that the Alabama legislature rushed through a bill to “fix” the decision, Republicans released strategy memos citing Kellyanne Conway on how to talk about IVF and abortion, and Sen. Katie Britt (R-AL) delivered the Republican rebuttal to President Joe Biden’s State of the Union address. And let me tell you folks, every bit of the conservative response to the Alabama decision is a distraction. Don’t fall for it.

Let’s start with the Alabama legislature’s response to the absolute mess its supreme court made with that decision. The bill is essentially a liability shield for IVF providers, meaning it offers a temporary reprieve from the possibility they could be sued for wrongful death or prosecuted over the destruction of any embryos in the IVF process. It’s not a rebuke of fetal “personhood” at all.

Now, let’s talk about the counter-messaging that conservatives actually do support IVF and related reproductive freedoms. Despite all the media attention, Iowa Republicans just passed their own version of fetal “personhood.” Kentucky and Oklahoma and so many other states are considering some form of fetal personhood measure. And those states that already have fetal “personhood”? Not many are rushing to prevent what happened in Alabama from happening in their own states. They may say they are concerned, but they sure aren’t acting like it.

Then there are the 124 Republican members of the House of Representatives—including the current Speaker of the House—who are co-sponsors of the Life At Conception Act, which seeks to replicate the Alabama model nationwide. Much like Alabama did, this federal bill declares that “human life begins at conception,” leaving open the possibility of a Supreme Court reading that declaration to ban IVF and abortion nationwide.

Once again the conservative movement is telling us exactly who they are and what they believe. And they believe in a future where abortion and IVF and hormonal contraception are all illegal. It’s imperative that we take them seriously and prepare a response worthy of this moment. Unfortunately the current plan of “Restore Roe is not that response and, similar to the Comstock conversation, I’m concerned we’re running out time.