IVF and the GOP’s Warped Priorities

The Ethical Implications of IVF Need to Be Examined

For decades, there’s been a noticeable tendency for the GOP elite to be utterly ashamed of the political views of their party’s base. From questioning the patriotism of those who oppose unending funding for Ukraine to wanting to replace “lazy Americans” by importing new ones, GOP tastemakers cannot stand a sizable number of its own voters. This penchant showed itself once again after a recent ruling from the Alabama Supreme Court.

The Alabama justices decided a civil case brought by the parents of embryonic children created by in vitro fertilization (IVF). A patient mistakenly walked into a non-secured area of a fertility clinic and accidentally dropped a container holding the embryos, killing them instantly. Associate Justice Jay Mitchell ruled that the embryos are protected under Alabama’s Constitution. “Under existing black-letter law…the Wrongful Death of a Minor Act applies to all unborn children, regardless of their location,” he wrote in an opinion for the court. 

Chief Justice Tom Parker’s concurring opinion has predictably been generating cries of “theocracy” from the media and its allies, which in truth established no such thing. (For this group, the U.S. lived under a “theocracy” until the saintly Warren Court finally put an end to it in the mid-twentieth century.) Citing a bevy of resources from both Christian and Jewish traditions, Chief Justice Parker made the case that the Sanctity of Unborn Life Amendment in Alabama’s Constitution covers human beings who are in the embryonic stage of life. 

For those interested in how the continuing resourcement project that mines the Reformed tradition can be applied, look no further than Chief Justice Parker’s citation of Dutch theologian Petrus Van Mastricht:

Van Mastricht’s assessment of the significance of man’s creation in the image of God accords with that of Thomas Aquinas centuries earlier. Following Augustine, Aquinas distinguished human life from other things God made, including nonhuman life, on the ground that man was made in God’s image.

This is the kind of Reformed resourcement we need far more of. Additionally, Chief Justice Parker’s clear appreciation for Reformed catholicity, or the Reformed tradition’s connection on various points of doctrine to the larger Christian tradition, is a useful part of this enterprise. The Reformation, after all, was not a clean break from the preceding Christian tradition.

Nevertheless, instead of discussing how human life can be protected at its earliest stages, expediency, embarrassment, and worries about polling have been the leading concerns among Republicans in the ruling’s wake. 

As Katy Faust noted on X,

The Alabama Supreme Court handed pro-lifers one of the greatest victories in our history, making it very clear that children are human deserving protection from the moment of conception. If it had been an anti-abortion ruling, Republicans would’ve cheered. “Finally, a major institution that recognizes that children have a right to life!” But because the ruling targeted the baby-making industry and not the baby-taking industry, Republicans balked.

Yes, we want to be pro-life…but not that pro-life. 

Alabama Republican State Representative Terri Collins told Politico that though a “longer discussion” about IVF is needed, her top priority is “to find some compromise that would open our clinics for these families.” Understandably, there are families who are currently in the midst of IVF and have embryos that need to be cared for. But how is this different in principle from Barack Obama’s infamous stance during the Saddleback Forum that though the question of when life begins was above his pay grade, abortion should continue unabated?

On the national political stage, the MAGA faction and the establishment are speaking in one voice. Donald Trump and Kari Lake condemned the ruling, as did the woman who’s burned through $100 million, Nikki Haley. A National Republican Senatorial Committee memo to candidates is particularly conspicuous on this issue. Republican candidates are to “state their unequivocal support for IVF” and must “publicly oppose any efforts to restrict access to IVF.” (In using this absolutist language, Republicans mirror Democrats who howl when they see any attempt to regulate the abortion industry.)

However, Emma Waters points out that the Alabama Supreme Court’s decision prohibits neither IVF nor directly the “destruction of embryos.” She clarifies that the court’s decision “extend[s] personhood to embryonic children” and also “provide[s] parents with legal recourse if they believe that the fertility clinic, through careless actions, is responsible for the wrongful death of their child.”

Furthermore, one can acknowledge both the current political opinions of voters and the grave ethical concerns IVF presents. 

Politics is not simply blindly following the whims of public opinion—that way lies unleashing the tyranny of the majority. In the Reformers’ view, in the civil realm the people need to be led by “nursing fathers” through the auspices of the civil law, which not only punishes but also refines and elevates, leading the people to temporal and eternal goods. In his commentary on Psalm 82, Martin Luther writes that “there is on earth no better jewel, no greater treasure, no richer alms, no fairer endowment, no finer possession than a ruler who makes and preserves just laws.” 

In America, the founding fathers focused their efforts on ensuring that public opinion is consistent with the public good. In Federalist 10, James Madison notes that republican government aims “to refine and enlarge the public views, by passing them through the medium of a chosen body of citizens, whose wisdom may best discern the true interest of their country, and whose patriotism and love of justice will be least likely to sacrifice it to temporary or partial considerations.”

From surveying the landscape of IVF, there is much for public officeholders to examine and consider.

In 2012, it was widely reported in the U.K. that more than 3.5 million human embryos had been created since 1991, which only produced 235,480 successful implantations. This means that over 840,000 embryos were put away into storage, a number which tracks with data in the United States. A 2019 paper by Arthur Caplan, a professor at the New York University Medical School, found that there were at least 90,000 abandoned frozen embryos in the U.S. Other embryologists suggest that estimate is far too low and actually ranges in the hundreds of thousands—even possibly 1.8 million. And these stored embryos date all the way back to 1980 when IVF was first introduced. 

Above all, IVF has produced a surprising result of which most people—Christians included—are likely unaware. As Katy Faust asserted in a recent World op-ed, “By the numbers, the baby-making industry is responsible for the destruction of more little lives than the baby-taking industry.”

Faust cites an article by Stephen W. Austin, who calculated based on (inaccurate) CDC data that 900,000 embryos out of a million created through IVF did not make it to term in 2019. Austin writes that the CDC reported 629,898 abortions in 2019. He takes the obvious lesson from these numbers: “Death by IVF probably exceeds death by abortion.”

Given all of this, why are Republicans disinterested in examining the flourishing IVF industry? One possibility is due to who is using IVF, a prohibitively expensive process—especially if health insurance doesn’t cover it. This means it’s likely being used mostly by upper-middle class to rich suburban and exurban voters whom the GOP establishment are attempting to court. Republican consultants could also see the IVF industry as a new frontier for fundraising. As Carmel Richardson noted at The American Conservative, the IVF industry “is projected to be worth $129 billion before the decade is up.” 

A Republican Party that wants to launch a lasting revolution would, as Ryan T. Anderson counsels, unequivocally back the Alabama Supreme Court’s decision. That party would lead the charge by noting that “the deepest reasons for our laws lie in God’s eternal law,” as Anderson writes. This would also entail that a majority of elected GOP officials have the courage, willingness, and fortitude to make a stand, all of which are in short supply today, especially on Capitol Hill. Also, it would mean being conversant with the latest reproductive technologies, an area where Protestant denominations as a whole also need to improve. Fortunately, with the old leadership of the Bush era starting to turn over, the opportunity to reform the Republican Party will increase in the coming years.

Image Credit: Unsplash

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Mike Sabo

Mike Sabo is a Contributing Editor of American Reformer and an Assistant Editor of The American Mind, the online journal of the Claremont Institute. His writing has appeared at RealClearPolitics, The Federalist, Public Discourse, and American Greatness, among other outlets. He lives with his wife and son in Cincinnati.

3 thoughts on “IVF and the GOP’s Warped Priorities

  1. Besides the number of deaths, IVF hurts the cause of those who oppose the legalization of elective abortions. It does that with the artificial storage of embryos. For the storage of those embryos makes its much more difficult for people to think of those embryos as human lives in terms of relatability and consequence. The artificial storage of human embros takes the humanity out of their location. For it is one thing to think of the embryo as a human life when it is growing inside a woman’s body. But it is quite a different task to think of an embryo that is frozen and stored inside some artificial container as being a human life. The same can be said about the loss of a human embryo. Again, there is a humanity when the loss occurs in a miscarriage. But the humanity is lost when a frozen embryo was discarded from an artificial container.

    The existence of IVF has made the task of convincing people, who are already resistant to the idea, that an embryo is a human life much more difficult. And we need to be able to persuade people of humanity of the embryo because history shows that laws banning abortion are not enough to keep a check on the procedure.

    1. Well put, Curt! The dehumanization of people (born and unborn) is a persistent and systemic problem of the technocratic age.

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