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The Alabama Supreme Court set off political tremors last week with its decision that frozen embryos have the status of "extrauterine children" and thus are covered by a state law that permits parents to seek damages for the wrongful death of a "minor child." The implication that in vitro fertilization (IVF) cannot be practiced if embryos have legal standing led some commentators immediately to describe the ruling as a "ban." Alabama's attorney general issued a statement reassuring people that IVF providers and patients would not face prosecution, even as clinics around the state were phoning their patients to cancel procedures. There is, IVF industry representatives told lawmakers and the press, too much risk of legal liability if a clinic accidentally causes the death of an embryo by piercing it with a pipette; or if, in consultation with parents, it discards a genetically damaged embryo; or if a power failure causes freezers to malfunction. The possible lawsuits are limitless.
Democrats seized on the decision as evidence that Republican extremists were gunning for IVF, and Republicans, burned once too often by abortion at the ballot box, rushed to assure voters that they reject the ruling and urged the Alabama legislature to amend the law forthwith. Former President Donald Trump led the way by proclaiming that "We want to make it easier for mothers and fathers to have babies, not harder!"
Jason Thielman, executive director of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, circulated a letter to candidates urging, "When responding to the Alabama Supreme Court ruling, it is imperative that our candidates align with the public's overwhelming support for IVF and fertility treatments." Florida Rep. Byron Donalds, a Freedom Caucus member, said, "I totally support the procedure" and offered that he would support federal legislation to protect IVF. Sen. Tommy Tuberville was confused about the nature of the Supreme Court ruling, telling a group at CPAC "I was all for it. ... We need to have more kids," but he seems to have gotten the memo about the GOP's message. Speaker Mike Johnson affirmed his support, saying IVF "has been a blessing for many moms and dads who have struggled with fertility."
The problem with the GOP's newfound enthusiasm for IVF is that it contradicts other positions the party has taken to please pro-life voters. In the last Congress, more than 160 House Republicans, including Johnson, cosponsored H.R. 1011, the "Life at Conception Act," which extends 14th Amendment protections to include "preborn human person(s)."
Republicans have also marched in lockstep to oppose the Right to Contraception Act introduced by Democrats because it would have included methods, such as IUDs and the morning-after pill, that some consider abortifacients. It's hard to square support for IVF, which, as practiced in the United States, nearly always entails the loss of fertilized eggs, with opposition to Plan B because it may result in the loss of a fertilized egg.
Maybe the lesson here is that doctrinaire approaches to these matters are not right. Life is full of trade-offs. Johnson is right that IVF has been a blessing for millions, and that includes many people who think of themselves as pro-life. For every 100 Americans born today, between one and two will have been conceived through IVF. By 2015, more than 1 million Americans were born as a result of IVF or similar technologies. For people diagnosed with cancer, IVF can preserve their fertility until after they have completed chemotherapy. For couples who are carriers of genetic diseases like cystic fibrosis, sickle cell anemia, Tay-Sachs and more than 400 other disorders, IVF can allow embryos to be tested before transfer to ensure that the disease is not present. Is that a pro-life gift to the world? Millions of Americans think it is — even though the procedure involves the loss of embryonic human life. It isn't a failing to recognize that these matters are murky and sometimes we do act on moral instinct more than on bright lines.
It is possible to approach the process ethically and even reverently. Some couples make decisions in advance about how to handle the question of "excess" embryos that have not been transferred after IVF treatment (only a fraction of transfers result in implantation and pregnancy). Some place frozen embryos for adoption. Others have larger families than they might have originally intended because they regard the frozen embryos as their children.
It's difficult for a political party to escape its brand. Just as Democrats will have difficulty convincing voters they aren't soft on illegal immigration, Republicans won't easily escape the association with hard-line abortion positions, including opposition to certain kinds of contraception. The personhood bills that four states have enacted and a dozen others are considering draw a harsh line on matters like IVF, which does entail making life-and-death decisions about frozen embryos. The voters may force Republicans to reconsider their blanket support for personhood bills. Perhaps pro-natalism is the pro-life position the GOP needs.
Reprinted with permission from Creators.
Immigration shot to the top of Gallup's February polling on what Americans say are the country's most vexing problems, finishing at 28 percent, an eight-percentage-point uptick in a single month.
Here were February's top five issues, compared with January's:
1. Immigration: 28 percent (+8 points from January)
2. Government: 20 percent (-1 point)
3. Economy in general: 12 percent (unchanged)
4. Inflation: 11percent (-2 points)
5. Poverty/Hunger/Homelessness: 6 percent (+1 point)
The main driver of immigration’s rise to the top of voter concerns was Republicans, 57 percent of whom name immigration as the country’s top problem—a 20-point surge since January.
Gallup notes that survey, taken from February 1 to February 20, encompassed a timeframe when the bipartisan border deal was announced but ultimately failed to pass the Senate after Donald Trump urged congressional Republicans to kill it.
But Republicans have also recently been hammering the issue with hard ad dollars, according to Zachary Mueller, senior research director at the immigration advocacy group America's Voice. Mueller told Daily Kos that in just the first two months of 2024, Republican-aligned campaigns have already run 445 unique immigration ads totaling $62.6 million, according to AdImpact data.
"What those Gallup numbers tell me is that there is a core of the GOP base that has bought into the bigoted fiction that immigration is an existential threat to the nation," Mueller said, calling the Republican advertising a "xenophobic feedback loop."
Gallup's list of 15 items national priorities was notable for several other reasons, including the fact that concerns about inflation (No. 4) and the economy (No. 3) continue to recede in relation to other issues. In October 2022, just before midterm Election Day, 46 oercent of Americans mentioned various economic issues as the nation's most important problems. In February 2024, just 30 percent of respondents cited economic issues as their chief concern, so voters’ urgency around economic issues have receded considerably over the last year and a half.
In addition, the latest Gallup survey shows that just three percent of respondents named the federal budget deficit as a problem—so that GOP talking point is effectively dead, even among Republican voters.
At this point in the cycle, immigration is effectively all Republicans have left to run on. And due to their heavy spending, the issue of immigration and the influx of migrants crossing the border is now tops among Americans for the first time since July 2019, when it hit 27 percent
That's exactly why both President Joe Biden and Donald Trump went to Texas on Thursday to stage dueling press conferences.
During the visit, Biden sought to play offense on the issue, saying congressional Republicans had tanked the border deal for "rank partisan politics" and challenging them to "show a little spine."
While it's true that voters typically trust Republicans more on the issue of immigration, being a solutions-oriented pragmatist on the matter recently helped secure New York Democrat Tom Suozzi an 8-point win over his Republican rival in the special election for New York’s Third Congressional District. Suozzi called for a border shutdown while also emphasizing providing law-abiding immigrants with a pathway to citizenship.
And if Biden hopes to broaden his coalition by appealing to Nikki Haley supporters on the matter, South Carolina exit polls showed her winning 70 percent of Republican primary voters who say most undocumented immigrants should be given the opportunity to apply for legal status.
The split-screen Biden-Trump events at the border were just the opening salvo on an issue that Republicans will surely drive home through November. In 2022, Mueller said Republican-aligned campaigns ran 733 unique immigration ads totaling $233.4 million, according to AdImpact.
This year, Mueller expects Republicans to make another "massive investment" in stoking the issue.
"Despite nativist attacks failing to deliver at the ballot box in cycle after cycle, Republicans, with Trump still leading their party, are not going to switch tactics," he said.
And even if Republicans wanted to switch tactics, what would they switch to?
Reprinted with permission from Daily Kos.