Is Destroying An Embryo Murder? House Speaker Mike Johnson Won’t Say.

The GOP leader’s evasiveness on the question reflects the glaring contradiction in his party’s stance on IVF and abortion.

WASHINGTON — Is a frozen embryo a child? And is destroying it murder?

On Thursday, House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.) wouldn’t say.

“Look, I believe in the sanctity of every human life ― I always have ― and because of that I support IVF,” he said in his weekly press conference when asked about the issue.

Johnson said there are “amazing” statistics about IVF, or in vitro fertilization, adding that the technology has been available since the 1970s and has led to 8 million births in the United States. He said he has “many close friends” who have “beautiful families” now thanks to IVF.

“It needs to be readily available,” he continued. “I don’t think there’s a single person in the Republican conference who disagrees with that statement.”

He never actually answered the question.

IVF is a hot topic on Capitol Hill after this month’s Alabama Supreme Court ruling that a frozen embryo is a child with equal rights under the state’s wrongful death law. The decision was seemingly aimed at curbing more abortion rights, but it has resulted in fertility clinics across the state halting IVF treatments because they don’t want to risk a lawsuit for discarding unused embryos.

IVF is hugely popular, with one recent poll showing more than 80% of respondents in support of fertility-related procedures. A whopping 2% of all babies born in America are the result of IVF, and 42% of adults say that they have used fertility treatments like IVF or know someone who has, per a Pew Research Center survey last year.

And herein lies the problem for Johnson and House Republicans: Dozens of them are co-sponsors of legislation to define “human being” to include “all stages of life, including the moment of fertilization, cloning, or other moment at which an individual member of the human species comes into being.” Their bill, the Life at Conception Act, does not make exceptions for IVF.

In other words, Republicans have already quietly been pushing the idea that an embryo is a child and, by extension, that destroying one is akin to murder. They just weren’t expecting the Alabama case to thrust IVF into the national spotlight, and now they can’t explain how they simultaneously believe that life begins at conception and also support IVF.

They have painted themselves into this corner.

Johnson is among 125 co-sponsors of the House bill. So are a number of vulnerable Republicans running for reelection who definitely don’t want to look like a threat to IVF in the coming months.

GOP Reps. Don Bacon (Neb.), Mariannette Miller-Meeks (Iowa), David Schweikert (Ariz.) and Michelle Steel (Calif.) are among those up for reelection in swing districts. They are all co-sponsors of the current or a previous version of the Life at Conception Act. And they are all now making public statements in strong support of IVF — despite that stance being directly contradicted by their co-sponsorship of the legislation.

“I was on Meet the Press Now and made clear that I support IVF,” Bacon tweeted last week.

“As a physician and mother, I support these treatments,” Miller-Meeks tweeted.

“I will oppose any effort to restrict it,” Schweikert tweeted.

Interestingly, Steel tweeted that she benefited from IVF to start her own family, and then said that she does “not support federal restrictions on IVF.” But she is co-sponsoring legislation stating that life begins at conception and making no exceptions for IVF, which certainly sounds like an opening for federal restrictions on it.

Rep. Michelle Steel (R-Calif.) said that she does "not support federal restrictions on IVF." But she is a co-sponsor of federal legislation to define life as beginning at conception, with no exceptions made for IVF.
Rep. Michelle Steel (R-Calif.) said that she does "not support federal restrictions on IVF." But she is a co-sponsor of federal legislation to define life as beginning at conception, with no exceptions made for IVF.
Bill Clark via Getty Images

In the Senate, Republicans just blocked a bill that would have created federal protections for IVF and other fertility treatments.

They also have a bill defining life as beginning at conception. but it makes an exception for IVF: “Nothing in this Act shall be construed to require the prosecution of any woman for the death of her unborn child, a prohibition on in vitro fertilization, or a prohibition on use of birth control or another means of preventing fertilization.”

Still, GOP senators can’t say if they think a frozen embryo is a child, either.

“I don’t want to say they’re not children,” Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) told reporters Tuesday. She said she supports IVF, though.

Sen. Cynthia Lummis (R-Wyo.) said she thinks it’s “reasonable” to believe that life begins at conception, but noted that the Bible doesn’t say this. She suggested that Alabama could tweak its laws to specify that an embryo is a child with rights once it is inside a woman’s uterus, but not when it is frozen in a tank.

“I think there’s a difference,” Lummis said. “That’s, I think, a fairly reasonable distinction between the two.”

But she, too, made clear that in any case, she supports IVF.

“Whatever is concluded, we desperately want to protect in vitro fertilization,” she said.

Popular in the Community


What's Hot