Republicans approve national platform that would give rights to fetuses, endangering abortion, IVF

Republicans approve national platform that would give rights to fetuses, endangering abortion, IVF

A group of anti-abortion supporters rally in front of the Supreme Court on June 20, 2024 in Washington, D.C. (ANDREW HARNIK/GETTY IMAGES)

By Amanda Becker, Shefali Luthra

July 9, 2024

If established by legislation, fetal personhood would have the practical effect of prohibiting abortion at all stages of pregnancy. Its impact could become national if courts affirm state-level laws that extend the application of the 14th Amendment to fetuses.

Originally published by The 19th

The Republican Party on Monday adopted a “Make America Great Again!” policy platform ahead of its national convention that does not call for a federal ban on abortion, but supports states establishing fetal personhood through the Constitution’s 14th Amendment, which grants equal protection under the law to all American citizens.

If established by legislation, fetal personhood would have the practical effect of prohibiting abortion at all stages of pregnancy. Its impact could become national if courts affirm state-level laws that extend the application of the 14th Amendment to fetuses.

The platform, released ahead of next week’s Republican National Convention in Milwaukee, adopts a states-centered approach to protecting or restricting reproductive rights, including abortion. It states: “We believe that the 14th Amendment to the Constitution of the United States guarantees that no person can be denied Life or Liberty without Due Process, and that the States are, therefore, free to pass Laws protecting those rights.”

The 16-page document, approved by the Republican convention platform committee and circulated by Trump’s campaign, goes on to say that Republicans “will oppose Late Term Abortion” — a political term not used by doctors to refer to abortions in the second and third trimesters of pregnancy — while “supporting mothers and policies that advance Prenatal Care, access to Birth Control, and IVF.

The platform does not call for a national legislative abortion ban or for Congress to set a gestational limit or other restrictions on the medical procedure. In extending 14th Amendment rights to fetuses, though, it follows a path the anti-abortion movement favors to achieve fetal personhood.

Fetal personhood is widely seen as being in conflict with in vitro fertilization (IVF), which creates embryos outside of the uterus that are later implanted. Fetal personhood bestows the same rights currently reserved for people to embryos from the moment of fertilization. The GOP platform said the party supports “mothers and policies that advance Prenatal Care, access to Birth Control, and IVF (fertility treatments).” It does not explain how they plan to support IVF while also supporting fetal personhood policies that would render it illegal.

Students for Life Action’s Kristan Hawkins called the inclusion of the 14th Amendment language “the most significant contribution” the platform makes to ending abortion.

Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the anti-abortion group SBA Pro-Life America, also touted the platform’s mention of the 14th Amendment, noting its role as a potential basis for national abortion restrictions.

“Under this amendment, it is Congress that enacts and enforces its provisions,” Dannenfelser wrote in a statement. “The Republican Party remains strongly pro-life at the national level.”

The document does not mention the Comstock Act, another lever abortion opponents have argued could be used to restrict abortion nationally. The 1873 anti-obscenity law, which was never repealed but has not been enforced in decades, bans the mailing of “every article or thing designed, adapted, or intended for producing abortion.” More than 60 percent of U.S. abortions are now done with medication — restricting access to the drugs has become a top priority of the anti-abortion movement since the Supreme Court in 2022 overturned the federal right to an abortion in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization.

Last month, the Supreme Court dismissed a case against the U.S. Food and Drug Administration brought by the Alliance for Hippocratic Medicine over the abortion pill mifepristone. Abortion opponents said the FDA should not have approved the drug, and argued that the anti-obscenity law should be used to bar the mailing of medication abortion. The case was dismissed on standing — a technical ruling in which the court held that the plaintiffs had not shown they had the right to sue — but the issue could return to the high court in the future.

The RNC document comes after a public, protracted GOP battle over how to handle abortion. Most Americans oppose the overturning of Roe v. Wade in Dobbs, and those who support abortion rights are more likely to say it will shape how they vote.

Donald Trump, the party’s presumptive nominee, has been hesitant to publicly support a national abortion ban, even while taking credit for Roe’s fall. Trump has not said how he would address the Comstock Act specifically, though the law is frequently cited in Project 2025, a public policy blueprint crafted by former Trump advisers through the conservative Heritage Foundation.

Authors

  • Amanda Becker

    Amanda Becker is The 19th's Washington correspondent. She has covered the U.S. Congress, the White House and elections for more than a decade.

  • Shefali Luthra

    Shefali Luthra is The 19th's reproductive health reporter covering the intersection of gender and health care. Prior to joining The 19th she was a correspondent at Kaiser Health News, where she spent six years covering national health care and policy.

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