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Ahead of South Carolina primary, Trump says he strongly supports IVF after Alabama court ruling

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Rock Hill, S.C. -

Former U.S. president Donald Trump said he would “strongly support the availability of IVF" and called on lawmakers in Alabama to preserve access to the treatment that has become a new flashpoint in the 2024 presidential election.

It was his first comment since an Alabama Supreme Court ruling that led some providers in the state to suspend their in vitro fertilization programs and has left Republicans divided over the issue.

Trump, in a post Friday on his Truth Social network, said: “Under my leadership, the Republican Party will always support the creation of strong, thriving, healthy American families. We want to make it easier for mothers and fathers to have babies, not harder!”

The all-Republican Alabama Supreme Court, among the nation's most conservative judicial panels, ruled that frozen embryos can be considered children under state law. Since then, some Alabama clinics and hospitals, including the University of Alabama at Birmingham health system, have announced pauses on IVF services.

The fallout has deepened divisions among conservatives over abortion and other reproductive services in a campaign year already fraught with debates over whether Republicans should pursue national abortion limits after the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2022 ruling that overturned the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision legalizing abortion nationwide. Trump and former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley, his last remaining major opponent for the GOP presidential nomination, have both cautioned against an absolute national ban and now have distanced themselves from the Alabama case.

As president, Trump nominated three of the justices who overturned Roe and paved the way for state lawmakers across the country to impose dramatic restrictions on access to abortion.

“Trump cannot run from his record and neither can the millions of women who his actions have hurt,” said Julie Chavez Rodriguez, U.S. President Joe Biden’s campaign manager, in a statement.

Trump and Haley were campaigning Friday ahead of Saturday's South Carolina Republican presidential primary, in which the former president is the overwhelming favourite, despite Haley having been twice elected South Carolina governor. The Alabama decision almost certainly will not change GOP primary dynamics, but the conversation carries important implications for the general election as Republicans try to avoid being tagged by Democrats as too extreme on reproductive policy.

Republicans' Senate campaign committee leaders acknowledged the stakes with an open memo Friday warning that the Alabama case “is fodder for Democrats hoping to manipulate the abortion issue for electoral gain.” The memo included talking points for Republican Senate candidates, with “Express Support for IVF” topping the list of recommendations.

Speaking Friday night in Columbia, S.C., Trump acknowledged the tension among Republicans over the issue and said he had received praise for supporting IVF.

“A lot of politicians were very happy because they didn't know how to respond to the decision that came down,” he said. “Now they all know how to respond.”

Haley steered clear of the IVF conversation Friday. She said Thursday, after the Alabama ruling, that she views human embryos, which are the earliest form of development after fertilization, as “babies.” But she also said she disagrees with the Alabama court and said the state's legislators should “look at the law.” Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey and Republican legislative leaders had already started that conversation before the GOP's presidential candidates weighed in.

In his social media post, Trump steered clear of declaring embryos to be distinct humans worthy of legal protection. His statement focused instead on the practical considerations for would-be parents trying to start families. IVF is typically a months-long process for couples or women who have struggled to conceive and maintain a viable pregnancy naturally. The treatments can cost patients tens of thousands of dollars, with no assurances that an implanted embryo will become viable and end with a healthy child.

“I'm pro-family,” Donald Trump Jr. said Friday in Charleston, campaigning on his father's behalf not long before the elder Trump issued his statement. “Families should do what they want to be able to make families.”

Trump Jr. said he had not discussed the specifics with his father since the Alabama ruling but said he and his father both know families who have used IVF as a path to having children.

The former president and Haley have found themselves ensnared by abortion and reproductive politics already in the 2024 campaign.

Trump has taken credit for the ruling overturning Roe but also warned Republicans about going too far adopting statutory restrictions on abortions, lest the party lose support from moderate voters. Polling has shown for years that most Americans, even many Republicans, want to preserve some access to abortion.

According to July 2023 polling from the AP-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research, majorities of both Democrats and Republicans believe that a pregnant person should be allowed to obtain a legal abortion in certain circumstances, including if the child would be born with a life-threatening illness, the pregnant person’s own health is seriously endangered by the pregnancy, or the person became pregnant as the result of rape or incest.

Nonetheless, anti-abortion advocates have suggested courts should go further to rule embryos are children, though that would sharply ramp up restrictions on treatments like IVF. Specifically, the Alabama ruling raises questions about what would become of frozen embryos that are not used in implantation procedures, what financial responsibility patients might have to maintain them if they could not legally be destroyed and what civil and even criminal liabilities medical providers could face throughout the process.

As she campaigned Friday in Moncks Corner, South Carolina, Haley stuck to her argument that Trump, who has been indicted four times, is too big a risk for Republicans to nominate again. She repeated her pledge to stay in the primary fight at least until the Mar. 5 Super Tuesday primaries, and she again hammered Trump for cozying up to Russian President Vladimir Putin.

“Trump is siding with a dictator who kills his political opponents,” she said, referring to Russian dissident Alexei Navalny, who died recently in an Arctic prison camp after being jailed by Putin's Kremlin government.

Haley's approach, however, has yet to persuade enough Republican primary voters, with Trump running up wide margins in Iowa, New Hampshire and Nevada. Even in South Carolina, where Haley was once the state's most powerful, popular Republican figure, she has had trouble winning over conservatives.

“I’m assuming that every one of you wants to see a change in our country,” she said later in Mount Pleasant, drawing chants of “Nikki! Nikki! Nikki!”

But that crowd of supporters was measured in hundreds. Trump's was measured in thousands.

Jim Schurtz, a 72-year-old retired engineer who came to hear Trump on Friday in Rock Hill, went so far as to say Haley had been “a terrible governor.” Sporting a red Trump hat with a giant “T” and “2024” across the top, Schurtz said he doesn’t think Haley would be elected governor if she had to run again.

“All she does is put Trump down,” he said.

Both Trumps took shots at Haley, saying she's staying in the race to ensure financial windfalls after the campaign. Trump Jr. suggested Haley is running for a post on “the Raytheon board,” referring to the defense conglomerate now known as RTX Corp. The former president mused at his rally about a different landing spot: “Maybe she wants to get a contract at CNN."

Even if Haley can narrow Trump’s expected margins, she could watch him extend his delegate lead nationally. Of South Carolina’s 50 delegates, 29 are awarded to the statewide winner. The other 21 are distributed according to the outcome within each of the state's seven congressional districts; each district is worth 3 delegates for the top vote-getter. In 2016, Trump used that system to sweep South Carolina's delegates.

In Rock Hill, Trump spent more time on a string of attacks directed at Biden, former President Barack Obama and Republican Sen. Mitt Romney than he did talking about Haley. But, Trump said mockingly, “I have an obligation” to mention Haley before polls open Saturday.

So, he offered a prediction: “She's going to have a very bad day tomorrow.”

Pollard reported from Moncks Corner, South Carolina, Kinnard from Charleston, South Carolina, and Barrow from New York. Associated Press writer Jill Colvin in Columbia, South Carolina, contributed to this report.

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