Martin Schram: A muddle in the huddle

Martin Schram, Tribune News Service on

Published in Op Eds

Nikki didn’t know. The Donald didn’t care. And Coach Tuberville had no game plan.

Indeed, all over America, all the famous-name Republicans and even the rookie-wannabes began last campaign week as always, determined to be smart, stick-to-the-script, don’t-screw-up. Just head to the campaign trail – and hit the ground running.

But none of them knew that Alabama’s supremely conservative state Supreme Court had in effect scattered their upturned rakes over everybody’s campaign trails. The all-Republican Alabama Supreme Court ruled 8-1 that in vitro fertilization (shorthanded as “IVF”) frozen embryos are children and have the same rights that all children have.

“Human life cannot be wrongfully destroyed without incurring the wrath of a holy God,” wrote Alabama’s Chief Justice Tom Parker, in his concurring legal opinion. “Even before birth, all human beings have the image of God, and their lives cannot be destroyed without effacing his glory.”

Many Republican pols didn’t seem to know about the court’s ruling until people with media microphones asked if they agreed with Alabama’s supreme ruling. That’s when Republicans who had vowed to hit the ground running took their first step – right on an upturned rake.


South Carolina’s former Gov. Nikki Haley was hoping to at least have a flawless positive finish in her home state’s presidential primary. So when NBC’s Ali Vitali asked where she stands on that Alabama court ruling, Haley clearly didn’t want to get on the wrong side of her Republican primary voters.

“Embryos, to me, are babies,” Haley said with a warm smile, trying to straddle the controversial issue without cluttering it with clarity or specificity. But, as the pro-life Republican was speaking, hospitals and clinics in Alabama were suspending their IVF programs serving couples who sought medical help to bring life into the world. The medical facilities feared that if they had to dispose of any frozen embryos in their efforts, they could be accused of crimes. (Indeed, Haley has said she used artificial insemination to become pregnant.)

Former President Donald Trump trounced Haley by 20 percentage points in Saturday’s primary. Polls have shown Haley could have found conservative support by saying what she fervently believes. A recent poll showed right-to-life Americans strongly supported IVF efforts to achieve the miracle of life. A recent poll showed 85% of all registered voters supported IVF efforts – as do 83% of evangelicals and 78% of pro-life supporters.

Before the primary, Trump dealt with the unplanned controversy by not dealing with it at all. He simply bragged that his U.S. Supreme Court appointments overturned Roe v. Wade’s legalization of abortion. “I took extreme action to protect the unborn like nobody has done,” Trump said Thursday, saying nothing pertaining to IVF.

Meanwhile, at the CPAC (Conservative Political Action Committee) conference outside Washington, Alabama’s Republican Sen. Tommy Tuberville, the famous former football coach, was caught by surprise when NBC’s Dasha Burns, armed with a live mic, asked if he agreed with his home state’s Supreme Court ruling that embryos are children.

Alabama’s senator was clearly confused about what the ruling was about – as he demonstrated at length. “Yeah, I’m all for it,” Tuberville said. “It’s just an attack on families. An attack on kids. … We need to have more kids.”


Correspondent Burns was sharp and direct in explaining the issue to the senator: “IVF is used to have more children – and right now IVF services are pausing.”

Tuberville replied: “Well, that’s for another conversation. … I mean, that’s what the whole abortion issue is about.”

The correspondent tried again: “It really isn’t about abortion. It’s about IVF – and families might not have access to it.”

Tubervillle: “But it’s about the same direction. …We need more kids.” (It went on and on, got no clearer.)

By Thursday night, Haley, Trump et al. were trying to stuff their initial instant TV responses back into the tube. Haley finally disagreed with the Alabama court, saying this should be between couples and their doctors. Trump finally supported IVF, saying Alabama’s legislature needs to find a solution. Somehow.

Friday afternoon, the National Republican Senatorial Committee rescued candidates who might be as confused as Tuberville was. “Clearly state your support for IVF and fertility-related services as a blessing for those seeking to have children,” their new strategy memo advised. “Oppose restrictions on IVF.”

But savvy strategic advice only works when it is used. And Sunday morning, on CNN, Texas Republican Gov. Greg Abbott chose to just feign ignorance when asked on CNN if Texas couples could use IVF to bring new life into the world without fear of being criminally charged. The Vanderbilt Law School grad simply Forrest Gumped his way out of giving Texans even a hint of an answer:

“Well, so you raise questions that are complex that I simply don’t know the answer to. …I have no idea, mathematically, the number of frozen embryos. Is it 1, 10, 100, 1,000? …I’m not sure everybody has really thought about what all the potential problems are. As a result, no one really knows what the potential answers are.”

And the game goes on.


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