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Presidential hopeful Nikki Haley has shared more of her thoughts on IVF

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

Republican presidential hopeful Nikki Haley is further clarifying her thoughts on reproductive rights issues, including the fertility procedure known as IVF.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

NIKKI HALEY: Just because I think embryos are babies doesn't mean everybody else thinks embryos are babies.

CHANG: Haley spoke with a group of reporters this morning in D.C. during a campaign swing through the region ahead of next week's Super Tuesday primaries. NPR's Sarah McCammon was there and joins us now. Hey, Sarah.

SARAH MCCAMMON, BYLINE: Hi, Ailsa.

CHANG: OK. So the reason we're even talking about this - there's been this renewed focus on IVF in the past couple weeks because of the recent ruling from the Alabama Supreme Court, which could threaten access to this fertility procedure, right? What have Republicans been saying about that ruling?

MCCAMMON: That's right. So that decision from the Alabama Supreme Court has created a scramble within the Republican Party, and it's highlighted issues around reproductive rights at a time when Republicans have been largely on the defensive after the overturning of Roe v. Wade. The decision in Alabama prompted fertility clinics there to halt the procedure - IVF - and Republicans from former President Trump to Alabama's governor, Kay Ivey, to Nikki Haley have been expressing at least nominal support for ensuring access to the procedure.

CHANG: Right. But Haley - she's had to clarify her position on this. What is she saying now?

MCCAMMON: So she initially sort of stumbled when she was asked about it by NBC News. She said that she sees embryos as babies and appeared to be endorsing the Alabama court's decision. Now, she quickly clarified that a couple of times, saying that that's her personal view, and she stressed her support for access to IVF while also talking about her own past fertility struggles. Here's what Haley said about it when I asked her about it today.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

HALEY: When you're going through something that hard, you don't want government telling you anything else to get in the way of that conversation. That's between the doctor and the parents who have to decide it. It's very personal.

MCCAMMON: Now, Haley says that embryos should be treated with respect, as she put it. But, again, she says decisions about what to do with them should be up to patients and their doctors. And, Ailsa, if that sounds familiar, you know, that language that Haley is using about IVF is very similar to the way abortion rights advocates for years have talked about abortion...

CHANG: Exactly.

MCCAMMON: ...You know? - this idea that these are personal decisions, sometimes difficult ones, and that abortion should be, as they often say, between a woman and her doctor.

CHANG: Right. And Haley, I mean, she has said that she totally welcomes state restrictions on abortion, so why do you think she sees IVF differently?

MCCAMMON: You know, I asked her about this. I asked if decisions about embryos created through IVF should be between a patient and a doctor, as she says, then why not decisions about abortion?

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

HALEY: On IVF, I think states need to decide that, too. I think the people need to decide what's happening, and you're going to see that play out in Alabama and other places. They're going to now start to weigh in, and - but that needs to be close to the people, where the people can give their voice. My overall thing is this never should have been in the hands of unelected justices.

MCCAMMON: Now, it's worth noting, Ailsa, that most Alabama judges are elected, including those state Supreme Court justices. Haley left the door open there to letting state legislatures regulate IVF, and there is some legislation advancing in Alabama that's designed to protect access to the procedure, at least to some extent. But reproductive rights advocates have been warning, since the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade a year and a half ago, that threats to treatments like IVF would be next.

CHANG: Well, what about Republican voters? Where are they on IVF?

MCCAMMON: You know, the challenge for Republicans is that the politics around IVF just are not the same as abortion politics. Polls indicate Republican voters, even religious conservatives, overwhelmingly support access to IVF. And so it's a tricky issue for the party because many anti-abortion activists take the view that life begins at conception, as they say. And so from that framework, you get efforts to restrict abortion at every stage and, often, some forms of contraception and fertility treatments. You know, I was at a Haley rally in Richmond yesterday, and voters told me they either didn't have a thought about IVF or they supported it.

CHANG: That is NPR's Sarah McCammon. Thank you so much, Sarah.

MCCAMMON: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Sarah McCammon
Sarah McCammon is a National Correspondent covering the Mid-Atlantic and Southeast for NPR. Her work focuses on political, social and cultural divides in America, including abortion and reproductive rights, and the intersections of politics and religion. She's also a frequent guest host for NPR news magazines, podcasts and special coverage.