First the GOP came for abortion. Birth control, surrogacy and IVF are next.

March 26, 2024 6:15 am

People attend the annual March for Life rally on the National Mall on January 19, 2024 in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images)

For girls like me who came of age in the ‘80s while the backlash to the women’s liberation movement raged, it was a profoundly confusing time.

On one hand, we grew up listening to “Free to Be … You and Me” combat harmful sexist stereotypes, but the decade was also marked by stifling pressures to conform to traditional roles.

We were told that we could have high-powered jobs outside the home and raise children — cloyingly known as “having it all” — but we’d probably be miserable and the kids would suffer. (Men, on the other hand, continued to experience no such dilemma).

That was the backdrop to discussions of reproductive rights, where clichés of selfish young women who chose abortion were pitted against noble mothers who put their children’s needs over their own.

Of course, that idea falls apart once you start looking at actual data, which show the majority of women who have abortions are already mothers.

Still, given the media’s decades-long preoccupation with portraying abortion as a moral issue and ignoring the health and human rights implications, the frame of “bad” single women vs. “good” mothers has proved rather durable.

Then the far-right U.S. Supreme Court dumped Roe v. Wade in 2022, sparking mass outrage. Perennially ignored advocates and leaders like Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer warned that Republicans were about to reap the whirlwind from women in the upcoming midterms.

The still-predominantly male pundit class sniggered that the election was about “the economy, stupid” (most political analysis is just repeating banalities from decades ago) and predicted ladies would soon shrug at their loss of bodily autonomy and flock to the latest sale at Macy’s.

The country was evenly split on abortion, commentators (wrongly) lectured, missing that the ground had shifted with SCOTUS’ Dobbs decision. However Americans personally feel about abortion, most want the right to make their own decisions. And that’s why they’ve been so angry about GOP-appointed judges suddenly snatching away a freedom people had enjoyed for a half-century (after many Republicans had smarmily assured us that would never happen).

You know what happened next.

The pundits were proven wrong, as abortion rights was a winning issue in both red states and blue in 2022. In Michigan, a solid majority voted to enshrine reproductive rights in the state constitution and pro-choice Democrats ran the table up and down the ballot.

After suffering such devastating losses, Republicans have curiously decided to double down on anti-abortion tactics.

The U.S. Supreme Court is set to hear arguments this week on a case backed by more than 140 GOP lawmakers that could drastically limit access to mifepristone, a drug used for both medication abortion and miscarriage care. This could have huge implications nationwide, even in states like Michigan with abortion rights laws on the books.

And various politicians, including former President Donald Trump, the GOP frontrunner, have endorsed a 15-week national abortion ban that would supersede laws in blue states. So much for letting the states decide.

Now with the 2024 election upon us, we’ve once again been treated to stories that the Dobbs effect is over, brought to you by the same pundits who told us we were being hysterical to suggest that contraception and other reproductive freedoms could be on the chopping block.

As we know, Republicans have already taken aim at birth control at the state and federal levels, with a far-right Michigan GOP lawmaker last month floating a ban on hormonal birth control while retweeting billionaire X owner Elon Musk for clout.

But what’s really caught many off-guard is that supposedly pro-natal Republicans have become increasingly vocal about their full agenda of dictating how people become parents.

Michigan unexpectedly became a front in an emerging culture war over surrogacy, as we’re the only state that criminalizes such contracts. State Rep. Samantha Steckloff (D-Farmington Hills) has sponsored bills to change that.

As a cancer survivor, she notes being able to grow your family is deeply personal, and many people have “health-related issues that make becoming pregnant, impossible or dangerous.”

But the legislation was opposed by the Michigan Catholic Conference and Right to Life of Michigan, which have traditionally joined forces against abortion rights measures.

In a meandering speech topping 20 minutes, state Rep. Thomas Albert (R-Lowell) last week railed against the package as a “revolutionary departure from the natural order” and warned that “effectively, the order of a child-parent relationship, as it has existed since the dawn of mankind, is rewritten.”

Most Republicans ended up voting no on the bills, which narrowly passed and now head to Whitmer, who’s expected to sign them.

With right-wing media like The Federalist joining the anti-surrogacy chorus, it seems inevitable that red states will consider rolling back laws allowing the practice.

An even bigger firestorm was ignited in Alabama, where the right-wing state Supreme Court ruled last month that fertilized embryos had the same rights as children, causing in vitro fertilization (IVF) clinics to shutter their operations.

The intense blowback caused Alabama GOP Gov. Kay Ivey to quickly legislation extending civil and criminal immunity to IVF clinics, but questions still remain if there’s sufficient protection for providers.

Republicans across the country were thoroughly spooked, with many — particularly those facing competitive races this fall — insisting they support IVF. But anti-abortion lobbyists are split on the issue. The group Live Action — whose founder has close ties to Trump — dramatically decried the Alabama cleanup law as a “license to kill.”

Staunch evangelical U.S. House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.) tried to have it both ways, saying IVF is OK if handled “ethically” (whatever that means) while issuing a familiar refrain: Leave it up to the states. Yeah, we heard that one after Roe fell, too, and it’s … not working out great.

There’s also the inconvenient fact that many GOP lawmakers have voted to ban the procedure as part of various anti-abortion bills over the years. And shortly after the Alabama court decision, U.S. Senate Republicans blocked legislation protecting IVF access sponsored by U.S. Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.) a disabled veteran who used the procedure to have her children.

“My girls are my everything,” Duckworth said. “They likely would have never been born if I had not had access to the basic reproductive rights that Americans, up until recently, had been depending on for nearly a half-century.”

For years, conservatives have solemnly told us there’s no greater blessing for women facing an unplanned pregnancy than having the child. And now they’re now telling women who want nothing more than to be mothers that they shouldn’t have the right to grow their families if they use surrogacy or IVF.

In the end, the artificial lines between “good” and “bad” women are blurry, as abortion, birth control, surrogacy and IVF are clearly all the same fight.

For the right, it was never about protecting life. It was always about controlling women.

This column was originally published in Michigan Advance, part of States Newsroom, a nonprofit news network supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity.

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