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Democratic governors see IVF following a familiar post-Dobbs pattern

Democratic governors see IVF following a familiar post-Dobbs pattern
Democratic governors say they’ve made their states refuges for in-vitro fertilization treatments — in much the same way blue states did for abortion in a post-Dobbs America.

The Alabama Supreme Court temporarily suspended the practice of IVF in the state after it ruled that embryos are the same as children under state law, and it is one of 13 states that have so-called personhood laws on the books that set up a legal collision course with IVF treatments.

Democratically controlled states California, Illinois and Massachusetts passed laws last year that protect IVF providers. And in Michigan, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer recently directed the Michigan state health department to issue a reminder that protects out-of-state patients and providers who seek IVF treatments in Michigan.

With Congress unable to move national legislation to protect IVF, Democratic governors see the patchwork of state laws as a way to ensure access. Democratic governors say they know the sudden restriction of a deeply personal issue like IVF might move voters — even for those who don’t support a liberal position on abortion.

“We all either have a friend, relative or we ourselves and our families have used IVF in order to try to have a family. And so we understand that there’s a right that needs to be protected,” Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker said in an interview. “And, frankly, it’s shocking that they’re coming after this right.”

“Republicans don’t understand the storm that is coming,” he said.

Pritzker recently launched a new national nonprofit, Think Big, that’s focused on protecting and expanding abortion rights — and protecting IVF.

New York Gov. Kathy Hochul said in an interview it may not be so easy for Republicans to quell the sudden fervor over IFV, saying they are “really running scared on this issue.” She added that she’s “pointing out” the distinction between the two parties’ views on IVF.

Republican governors who gathered at the National Governors Association confab in Washington last month were quick to voice their support for IVF when asked about Alabama’s ruling.

Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin of Virginia said in a statement to POLITICO that he “unequivocally supports access to IVF for Virginians hoping to experience the blessing of a family.”

Democrats have been pushing for a national shield law for IVF providers, while Republicans blocked it from moving forward. Some Republicans have also struggled to answer questions about whether they consider embryos to be people — with some taking heat from anti-abortion groups.

Democratic Gov. Tim Walz of Minnesota told POLITICO that the issue hits home for him, as his son and daughter were both conceived with the help of fertility treatments.

Walz said he saw IVF as an issue with an obvious advantage for Democrats. There is already polling to back him up. A Navigator research report found that 3 in 5 Americans (or 62 percent) say access to fertility planning such as IVF should be easier to access; 45 percent said it should be “much” easier to access. Just 7 percent think access to IVF should be more difficult.

“IVF will be central because it’s central to people’s lives,” he said.

Democratic governors are also emphasizing the importance governors play in some states in making judicial appointments. The Democratic Governors Association recently launched the Power to Appoint fund, which is focused on helping elect Democratic governors who can be in position to appoint in the event there is a judicial vacancy. Since the fall of Dobbs, matters of reproductive rights are largely decided at the state level — with state supreme courts becoming the ultimate arbiter of what is legal.

This year, the DGA’s election strategy is focusing on New Hampshire and North Carolina, both states that have Republican majorities on Supreme Courts and competitive races for open governor’s seats.

Democrats feel particularly optimistic about the governor’s race in North Carolina, where the Republican nominee, Mark Robinson, has compared abortion to murder in the past. But, underscoring how complex of an issue IVF is for Republicans, even he wouldn’t answer a question about the Alabama ruling.

Meanwhile, national Republicans issued a memo commanding their candidates to avoid the topic on the campaign trail, owing to IVF’s extreme popular support.

“You saw how quickly Donald Trump and many Republicans reacted to that Alabama ruling, saying that they support IVF,” said Lance Trover, a Republican political operative and spokesman for North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum’s presidential campaign. “It’s an indication that Republicans obviously do support it. They’re pretty clear about that.”

But the party’s base continues to push for strict bans — and that anything short of a definition of life beginning at conception is unacceptable.

Even on abortion, Republicans can’t seem to agree. Several Republicans — like Nikki Haley in her unsuccessful presidential bid — urged the party to be more flexible on an issue that has destroyed them at the ballot box. But Trump is reportedly considering a 16-week national ban, and others have proposed national legislation that would ban abortion altogether. A similar divide appears to be emerging on IVF and Alabama’s ruling, with Republicans in the electoral space taking a more popular position, even if it runs afoul of their base.

“I think a lot of Republicans agreed that [the Alabama ruling] was a mistake,” said Preya Samsundar, a communications consultant who worked with the super PAC supporting Haley, and accused Democratic governors of playing politics in an election year. “Democratic governors right now are just grasping at straws, and they’re trying to use IVF and this isolated case in Alabama as that straw.”

Walz said this tension will keep Republicans trying to walk a fine line on IVF. “Their problem is they know that this is such a damaging issue, but for their base, they can’t say it,” he said.

Whitmer connected the debate around IVF directly to the election year rematch between former President Donald Trump and President Joe Biden.

“What’s happening in Alabama right now is only possible because Donald Trump’s Supreme Court justices voted to overturn Roe v. Wade, laying the groundwork for further erosion of our reproductive freedom,” she said in a statement.“The idea of taking IVF and reproductive freedom away from loving families is a huge concern. People don’t want politicians making these decisions for women.”

Margie Omero, a principal at the Democratic polling firm GBAO, said it’s no surprise that Democratic governors are trying to lean into IVF as a campaign issue.

“You can tell Republicans are worried about this by how quickly they all tried to pretend they have a pro-IVF position,” she said. “On top of that, Republicans support an unpopular national abortion ban.”

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