Some Arizona women rely on IVF for family planning, and they don’t trust local Republicans to keep that right

By Robert Gundran

May 9, 2024

“The Dobbs decision happened while I was pregnant…and I remember I said to the ultrasound tech, ‘Let’s hope everything is okay because I guess I’m kind of screwed if not.’” —Debbie Freeman

Arizona moms Tricia Crismon and Debbie Freeman both used in vitro fertilization to have children—but now, they’re worried that others in the Grand Canyon State won’t have the same access to IVF.

In vitro fertilization (IVF) is a method of getting pregnant where an egg and sperm are combined outside of the uterus, and that fertilized egg is implanted inside a uterus. More than 2% of all infants born in the US are conceived through IVF.

It’s not a journey Freeman expected to be on.

“I had no history of infertility in my family that I was aware of,” she said.

In fact, she and her husband got pregnant six months into their marriage the traditional way, but eventually discovered the pregnancy wasn’t viable.

Freeman tried to get pregnant multiple times after the first pregnancy, and she said she exhausted all methods before deciding on IVF.

“I luckily did IVF before the Dobbs decision happened,” she said. “I don’t know going forward how safe I would feel with retrieving eggs and creating embryos that would theoretically in a state like Arizona be considered people one day.”

She’s referring to the Dobbs v. Jackson case from 2022. That’s when the US Supreme Court overturned the Roe v. Wade ruling from 1973, which had classified the right to abortion as “fundamental” at a federal level. After the Dobbs decision, state governments got the power to allow or restrict abortion independently.

RELATED: How Arizona could soon have an IVF court ruling like Alabama’s

The Dobbs decision also opened the door to bans on other reproductive health decisions—like in February this year, when the Alabama Supreme Court ruled that frozen embryos created through IVF had the same legal rights as living children. That ruling effectively banned IVF in Alabama.

“It’s very odd to me that something that people are doing with the intention of creating families and bringing life into the world is being looked at with such a negative lens,” Freeman said.

IVF is falling into a group of reproductive rights that conservatives are calling “fetal personhood” issues. The broad concept ultimately serves the conservative agenda to control all reproductive decisions at the government level—provided the government and its judges support their goals. Case in point: The US Supreme Court has a majority of ultraconservative judges who were given lifetime appointments by former President Donald Trump and other Republican presidents.

“I never foresaw the [US] Supreme Court being what it is now,” Freeman said. “I had a lot of faith in the legal system until recently.”

And like the Alabama Supreme Court—which is made up entirely of Republican judges—Arizona’s seven state Supreme Court justices were all appointed by Republican governors.

Crismon—whose first son was born through IVF in 1996—said she was horrified by the Alabama Supreme Court’s ruling, and is worried something like that could happen here.

“I’m pretty guarded now, in terms of my optimism of how reproductive rights are going to proceed,” she said.

 

Local Republicans playing both sides of reproductive care

Over the past several months, Republican politicians in Arizona have been trying to gather support for their own “fetal personhood” bills. In 2023, for example, Rep. Matt Gress—a Republican representing District 4, which includes Maricopa County—introduced five pregnancy-related bills. Here are some things they would have done:

  • Allowed women to collect child support from the date of a positive pregnancy test.
  • Allowed pregnant women to drive in the carpool lane.
  • Increased penalty for perpetrators of domestic violence against pregnant people.
  • Allowed pregnant people to use child tax credits.

They might read like benefits for pregnant people—and that was the point. Who could, after all, argue with such things? But the bills would have sneakily established an idea in Arizona law—that from the moment of conception, a fetus has legal “personhood” rights. Gress, however, denied that was his intention to the Arizona Mirror.

The denial may not be surprising. A 2024 poll found that 86% of Americans believe IVF should remain legal, and Republicans have been backpedaling their messaging since the Alabama ruling. At work, however, their actions tell a different story. In March, a large majority of Republicans in the US House of Representatives backed the “Life at Conception Act”—a proposal that would make IVF illegal nationwide. That act was co-sponsored by Arizona Reps. Debbie Lesko, Andy Biggs, Paul Gosar, and David Schweikert—all Republicans.

Freeman said the hypocrisy from Republicans has made her not know who to trust.

“There are people who two years ago [said] abortion is murder,” Freeman said. “And now it’s like, ‘That’s not really what I meant.’”

READ MORE: Arizona Republicans say they support IVF, but their records suggest otherwise

 

Author

  • Robert Gundran

    Robert Gundran grew up in the Southwest, spending equal time in the Valley and Southern California throughout his life. He graduated from Arizona State University's Walter Cronkite School of Journalism in 2018 and wrote for The Arizona Republic and The Orange County Register.

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