Republican US presidential candidate Nikki Haley says embryos are babies

By Doina Chiacu

(Reuters) - Republican U.S. presidential candidate Nikki Haley said on Wednesday she believed frozen embryos created through in-vitro fertilization were babies, in comments seen as backing a controversial ruling by the Alabama Supreme Court.

Haley addressed the issue in a pair of TV interviews hours apart, days after Alabama's high court said that frozen embryos in test tubes should be considered children, rattling doctors and patients in reproductive medicine as well as raising legal questions.

"Embryos, to me, are babies," Haley told NBC News. "When you talk about an embryo, you are talking about, to me, that's a life. And so I do see where that's coming from when they talk about that."

Asked in a CNN interview later on Wednesday about the remarks, she said: "I didn't say that I agreed with the Alabama ruling."

Later, she added, "Our goal is to always do what the parents want with their embryo. It is theirs."

The former South Carolina governor said she had her son after using artificial insemination, a different procedure which does not involve embryos in a lab.

Haley is the last major 2024 Republican presidential challenger to frontrunner Donald Trump. The two will face off a third time on Saturday in her home state of South Carolina, with Haley again trailing in opinion polls but refusing to drop out.

Trump has not publicly mentioned the Alabama ruling. A representative for his campaign did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The ruling was greeted by widespread shock in Alabama, which has one of the nation's strictest abortion laws, according to news reports, with patients confused about whether to proceed with IVF and others wondering whether to move their embryos.

The University of Alabama at Birmingham paused in-vitro fertilization after the state supreme court ruling, due to fear of prosecution and lawsuits, a hospital representative said.

"We are saddened that this will impact our patients' attempt to have a baby through IVF, but we must evaluate the potential that our patients and our physicians could be prosecuted criminally or face punitive damages for following the standard of care for IVF treatments," the university statement said.

The White House said the ruling would create chaos for American families.

"This decision is outrageous - and it is already robbing women of the freedom to decide when and how to build a family," Vice President Kamala Harris said on Wednesday in an X post.

The Alabama ruling was the latest involving reproductive services after the U.S. Supreme Court in 2022 overturned its landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that had recognized women's constitutional right to abortion.

Republican candidates this election cycle largely steered clear of the abortion issue. The party's underwhelming performance in the 2022 midterm elections was seen as voter backlash against the Roe v. Wade ruling.

Haley, the only Republican woman in the 2024 race, has urged Republicans to focus on finding consensus, rather than faulting those who favor abortion rights.

Trump has taken credit for appointing three right-wing justices to the Supreme Court, securing the majority needed to overturn Roe in the first place. But he has also avoided saying whether he would sign a national ban into law.

(Reporting by Doina Chiacu; Additional reporting by Costas Pitas; Editing by Scott Malone and Christopher Cushing)