With IVF Ban, Fakery On Abortion Rights Is Biting Republicans Hard

Mike Johnson

Speaker Mike Johnson with House Republican leadership

The Life at Conception Act is the legal jewel in the anti-abortion crown, a federal law that would recognize a fertilized egg – Alabama’s so-called extrauterine child – as a human being with all the rights and protections provided to the rest of us under the 14th Amendment. The Life at Conception Act, which has no exceptions for IVF or any other fertility treatments, would amount to an automatic nationwide ban on abortions with no exceptions for rape, incest, or the health of the mother.

The law would override state laws permitting abortion. In states with limits on abortion, such as a ban after six or 15 weeks, the law would cancel those time limits as well.

It’s an extreme anti-abortion law that would take the end of Roe v. Wade to the next level, completely taking away a woman’s right to control her own reproductive life in every state in the Union.

For 125 House Republicans who have co-sponsored the Life at Conception Act, and the 19 Senators who signed onto an identical bill in the last Congress, the act was a no-brainer. If you were a Republican and you called yourself pro-life, you were for the Life at Conception Act, no questions asked.

Until now.

This week the Alabama Supreme Court’s decision declaring every fertilized egg a person immediately called into question the status of all the fertilized eggs at fertility clinics in the state and caused the closing of several, among them, the state’s most prominent. The Alabama decision flipped the anti-abortion script. The question became, “do you support in vitro fertilization?”, and Republican hands started popping up all over. Speaker of the House Mike Johnson, an avowed Christian Nationalist who made his sponsorship of the Life at Conception Act a signature part of his agenda which includes support for the establishment of a national religion – Christianity, natch – raised his hand along with all the other Republicans who have found “Reverse” on their gear shifts.

On Thursday, Johnson was still pushing for co-mingling of Biblical principles in our system of secular laws and supporting overturning laws legalizing homosexual acts and same-sex marriage. If asked he thought frozen embryos were children as the Life at Conception Act says they are, he would have high-fived you. But by Friday evening, Johnson was fulsomely praising the very thing Alabama had just banned. “I believe the life of every single child has inestimable dignity and value,” Johnson squeaked. “That is why I support I.V.F. treatment, which has been a blessing for many moms and dads who have struggled with fertility.”

You will note that Mike limited his support of IVF to “moms and dads.” Gay and lesbian couples who want children using IVF? Not so much.

The days that Republicans could say they were pro-life and forget about the details are over. It turns out that being anti-abortion wasn’t about the fetus as much as it was about the votes. Today, the anti-abortion movement is all about trying to find a way through the minefield the issue has become for them. Laws about abortion in red states have turned into a pick-your-timeframe smorgasbord.

Republicans who used to say they are pro-life are all of a sudden for abortion but with caveats. Take Donald Trump, who this week was exposed trying to carve out a new position for himself that split the difference and as he put it, “make everyone happy.” Trump is all for aborting fetuses up to 16 weeks of pregnancy. Then he’s against abortion. In Florida, they’re pro-abortion up to 15 weeks, but only for the time being, while a new law works its way through the courts making abortion illegal after six weeks. Some red states, like Arkansas and Alabama and Mississippi and Louisiana, have banned abortion completely, without exceptions for rape or incest. Other states have limits. In Arizona, abortion is legal up to 15 weeks; in Georgia, it’s legal up to six weeks; in Nebraska it's legal up to 12 weeks; in Ohio, aborting a fetus is legal up to 22 weeks, but after that it’s illegal with no exceptions for rape or incest; same with Wisconsin, where abortion is legal up to 22 weeks, and after that, it’s illegal except to save the life of the mother, but not for reasons of rape or incest.

Do you see what’s going on here? Republicans are against abortion except when they’re not. When the vote wind is being blown by suburban woman, some Republicans find a way to legalize abortion up to some arbitrary number of weeks. Republicans appear to be out there like fishermen, casting their lines for votes: Hey, I got a bite at 12 weeks! The Republican down the river hooks his votes at 15 weeks!

They’re all looking for a sweet spot with the abortion issue, and where they land depends, as ever, on what state we’re in. Trump seems to be betting he can con women by making abortion legal up to 16 weeks, a new number Trump pulled out of the air. But give him some time, and he’ll find another number, once he’s stuck his finger in the air and checked which way the votes are blowing.

Whatever they pick – and by “they,” I mean Republican state legislators and governors and candidates like Trump – at the tick of the clock past midnight on the last day of that arbitrary number, the fetus magically becomes a child and you can’t abort it, because…well, because Republicans say so, that’s why.

It's going to be fun watching Republicans running for the exits from the Life at Conception Act, because last week Alabama started a fire and anyone clinging to it is going to get burned. You’d like to think, wouldn’t you, that somehow Republicans are coming to their senses on the issue of reproductive rights, but that is not what’s happening. Instead, they’ve got their metal detectors out and they’re waving them across the ground in front of them trying to find their way through the minefield they’ve created for themselves.

Yesterday, Republicans thought they could moderate their anti-abortion position by giving an inch on exceptions for rape or incest. Today, it’s IVF. But the truth is, they don’t believe anything they say about when life begins, or when a fetus becomes a child, or when a legal abortion should suddenly become illegal. Despite the best efforts of Republicans like Mike Johnson to yap about abortion out of one side of their mouths and Jesus out of the other, abortion isn’t about morality, it’s about votes.

Watch these shapeshifters. IVF bit them in the ass, and they don’t want to get bitten again. We’re going to need X-ray vision to find our way through the fog of Republican obfuscation and quick-change reversals and outright red-in-the-face lies ahead of us.

Lucian K. Truscott IV, a graduate of West Point, has had a 50-year career as a journalist, novelist, and screenwriter. He has covered Watergate, the Stonewall riots, and wars in Lebanon, Iraq, and Afghanistan. He is also the author of five bestselling novels. You can subscribe to his daily columns at luciantruscott.substack.com and follow him on Twitter @LucianKTruscott and on Facebook at Lucian K. Truscott IV.

Please consider subscribing to Lucian Truscott Newsletter, from which this is reprinted with permission.

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