North Carolina’s GOP Opposes Embryo Destruction. That Could Threaten IVF.

The state party’s new platform includes a controversial plank with far-reaching consequences.

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In February, the conservative Alabama Supreme Court delivered an unprecedented opinion, ruling that failing to protect an embryo from destruction is the legal equivalent of failing to prevent a human child from dying.

This implicated the state’s in vitro fertilization providers because embryos are often disposed of in the process of IVF treatment.

While Alabama’s majority-Republican legislature moved quickly to protect fertility clinics—several of which had paused treatment due to legal risk—from future “wrongful death of a minor” lawsuits, the decision nonetheless caused a chilling effect around the reproductive community about the future of IVF in red states.

Alabama’s supreme court decision sent Republicans scrambling to clarify their views on IVF, which is supported by 86 percent of the population. But, in the wake of this uproar over reproductive freedom, the GOP in one battleground state is reaffirming a controversial position that may make IVF much more complicated. In its official 2024 platform, the North Carolina Republican Party says, without qualification, that it opposes the destruction of human embryos.

“We support developments in biomedical research that enhance and protect human life, including stem cell research. We oppose human cloning and the destruction of human embryos,” the 17-page document states.

US House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.) said in March that policymakers, especially state lawmakers, need to grapple with these issues. Lawmakers “need to look at the ethics surrounding” IVF. “If you do believe that life begins at conception, it’s a really important question to wrestle with.”

“It’s something that every state has to wrestle with,” he said, adding, “Alabama has done a good job of it.”

While other state GOP organizations, such as those in Georgia and Mississippi, include the belief that life begins at conception in their respective platforms, North Carolina’s platform appears unique in explicitly discussing embryos. The party’s broad phrasing could encompass opposing embryo destruction in the research process alone, or those produced as a result of IVF.

If embryo use is regulated, IVF will become more complicated. “Not all eggs will make embryos and not all the embryos will make babies,” says Dr. Sigal Klipstein, a reproductive endocrinology and infertility specialist in Illinois. “It’s not really predictable. So invariably, in some cases, patients will have extra embryos.”

IVF patients will have to navigate what to do with their embryos that can’t be implanted for various reasons.

“What happens if the embryo is not viable? What if we know it will miscarry or not implant—is that an embryo that should be discarded? What about embryos that carry disease? There are a number of downstream effects. And I think the most interesting one is what happens to these embryos? Who pays for that storage? Who maintains that storage? Should patients be obligated to maintain embryos they no longer need? This places undue limits on their reproductive liberty,” Klipstein says. She also notes that scientists need access to non-implanted embryos to achieve further advancements in reproductive medicine.

The North Carolina GOP’s platform has included similar language about embryos in prior platforms, going back to at least 2010; however, it is notable that the state party did not amend their new platform to explicitly express support for IVF or expand on the embryo clause in the wake of Alabama’s contentious supreme court decision and the resulting furor. A version of the platform with the track-changes feature enabled was obtained by Mother Jones, and it shows other edits—such as the addition of a line asserting “there are only two genders”—were made to the 2024 document, changing the version from 2022. The embryo language was unchanged.

Reproductive rights are a touchstone issue of the 2024 election, with several states attempting ballot measures to enshrine abortion access. Democrats are betting that such measures could buoy Democratic candidates in the process. North Carolina’s Republican legislature has gone against popular opinion in the state and against their Democratic governor by overriding his veto of a 12-week abortion ban the GOP passed earlier this spring.

Democratic National Committee spokesperson Jackie Bush says the North Carolina GOP’s position on embryos is another example of their war on reproductive autonomy. Republicans in North Carolina “are attempting to rip away women’s reproductive rights, including North Carolinians’ ability to grow their families through IVF.”

A spokesperson for North Carolina Republicans, Matt Mercer, says the platform does not explicitly mention IVF because “no one is trying to take away IVF,” adding, “this is a scare tactic pushed by NC Democrats to their allies in the liberal media to distract voters from their failed record and lack of enthusiasm for their candidates this year.” (Shortly after Mercer sent this statement came news that the Southern Baptist Convention had voted to oppose IVF.)

It’s possible, however, that GOP lawmakers, including in North Carolina, could limit the destruction of IVF-produced embryos without banning the treatment outright.

An extraordinary Louisiana statute is illustrative of how that could work.

In 1986, Louisiana banned the disposal of any embryo that continues developing 36 hours after fertilization—regardless of whether a medical provider thinks the embryo could result in a healthy pregnancy.

While IVF is still legal in Louisiana, patients there have additional barriers. They may have to attempt to implant all their embryos, pay for their storage in perpetuity, transfer them out of state for disposal at their own expense, or donate extras to married couples. (The law does not allow people to donate their embryos to science or to unmarried people.) The regulations can add costs to the already expensive treatment.

After a wave of blowback to the Alabama court decision, congressional Democrats and Republicans introduced bills aimed at enshrining IVF protections nationwide.

The Democrats’ bill specifically mentions a statutory right to autonomy over IVF byproducts, whereas Republicans’ would merely strip states of federal funding if they impose outright IVF bans. The Republican bill allows states to regulate IVF, and thus could allow states to impose restrictions on embryo disposal mirroring Louisiana’s.

Meanwhile, congressional Republicans’ widely backed Life at Conception Act defines a “human being” to “include each member of the species homo sapiens at all stages of life, including the moment of fertilization or cloning, or other moment at which an individual member of the human species comes into being.”

That bill provides any fertilized egg—perhaps one in a petri dish—protection under the 14th Amendment “for the right to life of each born and preborn human person.”

It’s inconsistent to simultaneously hold that fertilized eggs are equivalent to children and can’t be disposed of, and that a fertility treatment that routinely results in the disposal of some fertilized eggs is permitted.

If you’re bewildered by that contradiction, so are fertility specialists.

“There are many religious and personal beliefs regarding when life begins, and these are by virtue of their nature unanswerable by science,” Klipstein says. “The practice of medicine should be guided by science.”

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