The religious right is the tail that wags the GOP dog

[Previous: The Christian cult of embryo worship]

In February, the Alabama Supreme Court declared (in an explicitly religious ruling) that single-celled frozen embryos were people, with the same rights as any other person. The effect, which was intended, was to shut down all IVF clinics in the state for fear of prosecution. It was the next, predictable step in the Christian right’s long campaign to strip people of reproductive freedom and impose its own theocratic vision of God’s will.

This is how the religious right always operates. They pilot their most appalling policies in safe red states, where they don’t have to worry about it costing them support. Once it’s become normalized in the media and people have gotten used to it, they start lobbying for copycat laws in other states. Once that happens, they move for a federal ban. After the repeal of Roe, they must have thought the public was ready for the next rung on the Overton ladder.

But, as it turned out, they badly misjudged what voters were willing to accept.

If you’re a Republican, you essentially have to be a child molester to lose an election in Alabama. But the backlash against the anti-IVF ruling was so fierce, even Alabama Republicans were spooked. They hastily passed a band-aid law that didn’t overturn the ruling, but nullified it.

After this stinging defeat in the court of public opinion, you might think the religious right is chastened. You might think they’ve recognized that banning IVF is a political dead letter. You might think they’ll back away from this position and try something else next time.

Yes, you might think that. But you’d be wrong:

The Southern Baptist Convention, the largest Protestant denomination in the U.S., on Wednesday voted to condemn the use of in vitro fertilization, signaling the campaign by evangelicals against abortion is widening to include the popular fertility treatment.

…The IVF resolution before the thousands of leaders gathered in Indianapolis noted the pain infertile couples encounter but said that “not all technological means of assisting human reproduction are equally God-honoring or morally justified.”

…The resolution called on “Southern Baptists to reaffirm the unconditional value and right to life of every human being, including those in an embryonic stage, and to only utilize reproductive technologies consistent with that affirmation.”

The message that the Southern Baptist Convention is sending, especially so soon after the Alabama debacle, is clear: they have no intention of backing down. They’re devoted to the religious dogma of embryonic personhood, and they want to make it into law if they can. If they succeed, it would outlaw not just IVF, but abortion and most forms of birth control. That’s always been their goal, and it still is. They want us to hear that loud and clear.

Obviously, the SBC doesn’t have to worry about blowback the same way Republican officeholders do. They don’t have to answer to voters outside their own denomination. They can make demands without concern for political viability.

But it would be wrong to disregard this resolution as symbolic. The Republican party is in thrall to the religious right. The SBC and similar church groups are their base of support that gives them their marching orders. If conservative Christian groups want IVF outlawed, it’s a good bet that Republican politicians will try to do it, whatever the cost. They’re eagerly passing abortion bans, even though those are massively unpopular among voters even in red states like Kentucky, Montana, Kansas and Ohio.

Here’s a case in point: Just this week, Senate Democrats held a vote on a bill that would protect IVF nationwide – and Republicans blocked it.

If Republicans truly had no intention of taking away IVF, they’d have no reason to oppose this bill. Whatever they say, they clearly believe they’ll want to ban it at some point, and they want to leave themselves as much room to maneuver as possible. They don’t want to tie the hands of red-state legislatures that want to give this another try.

Whatever lies Republicans tell to avert voters’ wrath, it’s obvious that reproductive choice in every form is on the ballot in 2024. If you’re a voter who cares about abortion, birth control, or IVF, you’d better get fired up. The religious right is pulling the GOP’s puppet strings. If they win, they’ll ban them all – public opinion be damned.


  1. JM says

    I think you are mostly right here. A lot of the Republican party is now pushed along by very conservative Christians and has been for decades. The thing about the bill in congress being blocked is a bit off. The Republicans do have a good reason to block the bill even if they don’t plan to block IVF themselves. Letting the bill pass would give the Democrats an issue they did something constructive on. This is the logic Congress works on now because of the level of partisan deadlock. Everything is habitually blocked simply to prevent the majority party from doing anything.
    If the Democrats control the house in the next session they need to take the plunge and revise the rules to make blocking bills harder, if not impossible. I’m not sure getting rid of filibuster entirely is the right move but there needs to be a real limit/cost in doing it.

    • says

      That dynamic certainly exists in American politics, but it doesn’t always override every other consideration. Biden has gotten several large bills passed with bipartisan support, especially the infrastructure law, the CHIPS Act, the Respect for Marriage Act and Ukraine aid.

      The minority party is incentivized to block a bill when they perceive that the cause it supports is antithetical to their voters’ interests. Infrastructure spending doesn’t appear to attract the Republican base’s hostility. Reproductive rights does.

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