WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS, W.Va. — House Republicans said they emphatically support in vitro fertilization at their annual policy retreat here this week. But they’re all over the map on how to protect access to the treatment that has helped millions of families have children.

Speaker Mike Johnson, R-La., said Congress doesn’t have a role to play — it’s an issue that should be handled by individual states. But he and more than 120 other Republicans have signed on to legislation from Rep. Alex Mooney of West Virginia that could threaten the use of IVF for pregnancy, a process in which unused embryos or those with abnormalities can be discarded.

Meanwhile, Republicans facing tough re-election bids this fall are grappling with the IVF issue in the wake of the Alabama Supreme Court’s stunning ruling last month that embryos are considered children, raising questions about the legality of IVF and sparking a national debate.

Rep. Michelle Steel, R-Calif., who represents a swing district in Orange County, withdrew her co-sponsorship from Mooney’s Life at Conception Act, saying she backs IVF. And Wednesday, freshman Rep. Marc Molinaro, R-N.Y., who represents a competitive Hudson Valley-based district, became the first Republican to sign on to House Democrats’ bill to protect access to IVF, calling it “just commonsense.”

The bill’s Democratic author, Rep. Susan Wild of Pennsylvania, said that Molinaro exhibited a “profile in courage” and that she welcomes other Republicans who want to get on board.

Rep. Anna Paulina Luna, R-Fla., a new mother who flipped a Democratic seat in 2022, briefly signed on to Wild’s IVF bill but withdrew her name last month. On Thursday, she introduced her own IVF protection legislation, the Right to Try IVF Act.

“I have always supported the responsible use of IVF. IVF is an amazing innovation of modern medicine that helps families have children who would otherwise be unable to do so. … IVF is Pro-Life, and has helped so many families, several of whom I know personally,” Luna said in a statement.

GOP Conference Chair Elise Stefanik of New York, the highest-ranking GOP woman in Congress, said vulnerable Republicans know their districts the best and should be talking about issues of life — like IVF and abortion — on the campaign trail. 

“We believe it’s important for our members to engage on this issue and not, you know, stick their heads in the sand, which I think some potential candidates had done in the past,” Stefanik told a small group of reporters at the GOP’s three-day gathering at the historic Greenbrier resort. 

“My position is I’m pro-life with exceptions for rape, incest … but I’ve always spoken to this issue with compassion, and I strongly support IVF,” said Stefanik, who has aggressively recruited female GOP candidates during her time in Congress. “Members are going to sign on to bills that they support, and again, my position is I support IVF, and the House Republicans support IVF, the speaker strongly supports IVF, the top of the ticket, President Trump, supports IVF.”

Attendance is sparse at the GOP retreat, with a source saying roughly 100 lawmakers — less than half of the 219 Republicans in the House — made the four-hour bus ride to ruby-red West Virginia. 

Both Molinaro and Luna said they wouldn’t attend the retreat, where guest speakers included Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America President Marjorie Dannenfelser and March for Life President Jeanne Mancini, as well as the Israeli ambassador to the U.S., Michael Herzog, and former House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Greg Walden, R-Ore.

Asked by NBC News about Molinaro’s co-sponsoring the Democrats’ bill and Steel’s withdrawing from the Life at Conception Act, Johnson said that he fully supports IVF but that it’s an issue the states should decide. 

“It’s not my belief that Congress needs to play a role here,” Johnson, an evangelical Christian who often quotes the Bible, said at a news conference Thursday. “I think this is being handled by the states. Look, we support access to IVF. We believe, I believe — personally, this is my personal belief — in the sanctity of life, and we know, Kelly and I know, many families, beautiful families, that were created with the use of that technology.

“We need to do it ethically and well, and I think the states are handling that well. But it’s something that we should protect access to. And I think every Republican is committed to that idea,” he continued. “Life is a beautiful thing. I think the estimate is about 8 million babies have been born because of IVF since its creation in the late ’70s. And that’s a remarkable thing, and it’s something we ought to protect and preserve, and I think our party is certainly committed to that.”

Democrats feel strongly that Congress needs to protect access to IVF following the Alabama ruling and the U.S. Supreme Court’s overturning of Roe v. Wade. They also believe reproductive rights issues will help propel them to victory in 2024. Republicans barely captured control of the House and failed to win the Senate in the 2022 midterms, months after the Supreme Court’s Roe decision that gutted the constitutional right to abortion. 

The Alabama Supreme Court’s ruling last month that embryos created through in vitro fertilization are children sparked fierce backlash across the country and another round of GOP hand-wringing. In response, the GOP-controlled Legislature passed a bill to protect IVF, which GOP Gov. Kay Ivey signed into law this month.

Wild, the author of the Democrats’ IVF bill, praised Molinaro for joining her legislative push.

“Rep. Molinaro and any member of Congress who is willing to put partisan politics aside and do what’s right for the American people deserves a profile in courage award. I hope that he is the first of many Republicans to join me in the fight to protect IVF and other assisted reproductive technologies, and I’m glad this bill is finally receiving the attention from across the aisle that it deserves,” she told NBC News.

“It reflects the outpouring of support I’ve seen from people in my community across the political spectrum, who are united in defending every hopeful parent’s ability to start or grow their family,” she said.

The House Democrats’ campaign arm, which is working to defeat Molinaro this fall, wasn’t as generous, highlighting his support for certain abortion restrictions.

“Marc Molinaro publicly supported the overturning of Roe v. Wade, voted to punish doctors for providing reproductive care and to restrict abortion care for service members and is indisputably on the record supporting sweeping abortion restrictions,” DCCC spokesperson Ellie Dougherty said. “No matter how hard he tries to spin it, Molinaro can’t erase his extreme agenda that’s attacking reproductive freedoms and endangering New York women.”

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