Mar 1, 2024 - Politics & Policy

GOP's post-Roe peril spreads like wildfire

Illustration of an elephant with broken columns for legs.

Illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios

Republicans are trapped in a political minefield over reproductive rights, paralyzed in fear that their vulnerabilities on abortion and in-vitro fertilization (IVF) could hand Democrats the 2024 election.

Why it matters: Rarely has a political issue proven so salient, so personal and so animating for voters at both the state and national level. The Alabama Supreme Court's ruling on IVF suggests the fallout from the end of Roe v. Wade is far from contained.

Zoom in: Keenly aware of their renewed political jeopardy, Republicans — including former President Trump — have scrambled to declare their approval for IVF, which Americans overwhelmingly support.

  • The Alabama Supreme Court's ruling declared that frozen embryos are children, prompting some clinics to pause treatment in fear that they could prosecuted for discarding embryos — a common occurrence in IVF.
  • The intense and emotional backlash led the Alabama legislature to pass legislation Thursday to protect patients and doctors involved with IVF in the event that embryos are damaged or destroyed.

But at a broader level, few Republicans have opined on whether discarding leftover embryos is illegal or immoral — or whether there should be federal protections for IVF.

  • One explanation for the silence: 125 House Republicans, including Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.), co-sponsored a bill last year declaring that life begins at "the moment of fertilization."
  • Eager to paint Republicans' support for IVF as disingenuous, Senate Democrats attempted to pass a bill Wednesday enshrining federal protections for fertility treatments — knowing it would be blocked.

Zoom out: The GOP has yet to find a coherent strategy for countering the IVF crisis on the campaign trial. The stunning streak of Democratic victories since the Supreme Court overturned Roe in June 2022 suggests the same goes for abortion rights.

  • Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin's bet that he could neutralize the issue by embracing a "reasonable" 15-week abortion ban resulted in Republicans losing control of the state House and Senate in 2023.
  • Some Republicans see silence and diversion as their best bet: Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), for example, has not introduced a federal abortion ban this Congress for the first time since 2013, NBC News reports.
  • But anti-abortion activists refuse to accept silence as a strategy, exerting massive pressure on Republicans to balance electoral considerations with the demands of their conservative base.

What to watch: The Biden campaign and other Democratic groups have a colossal war chest and no shortage of opportunities to hammer Republicans on reproductive rights — with more land mines still looming.

The bottom line: There's little doubt that Democrats face major vulnerabilities on the border, the economy and President Biden's age. But by connecting the dots between Roe, IVF, birth control and beyond, the party is homing in on a powerful and coherent message.

  • "It's about how old your ideas are," Biden argued on "Late Night with Seth Meyers" this week when asked about his age, contending that Trump "wants to take us back on Roe v. Wade" and more.

Editor's note: This story has been corrected to state that the Supreme Court will hear oral arguments on mifepristone access on March 26, not March 29.

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