Senate Republicans block IVF package as Democrats push reproductive rights

Washington — Senate Republicans blocked legislation that would protect access to IVF on Thursday, part of Democrats’ push around reproductive rights this month to mark two years since the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade.

The vote to advance the measure failed with 48 votes in favor to 47 opposed, with just two Republicans — Sens. Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska — joining Democrats and independents. The legislation needed 60 votes to move forward. 

The issue came to the national attention after the Alabama Supreme Court earlier this year ruled that embryos are considered children under state law, prompting providers to halt fertility treatments. The legislature later approved a bill to protect IVF in the state.

Across the nation, Democrats put the blame on Republicans as the development raised concern about similar moves elsewhere, warning of a new front in the fight over reproductive rights.

“The anti-abortion movement is not yet finished. Now that Roe is gone, they have set their sights on a new target: in vitro fertilization,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said Thursday morning ahead of the vote. “So today the question before the Senate is very simple: Do we agree that Americans should be free to use IVF if they want to?”

The package, called the Right to IVF Act, is made up of four bills, some of which have previously been blocked by Senate Republicans. It’s sponsored by Sens. Tammy Duckworth of Illinois, Patty Murray of Washington and Cory Booker of New Jersey, and centers on a right to receive and provide IVF services, while working to make the treatments more affordable.

Sen. Tammy Duckworth speaks alongside Sen. Cory Booker outside of the U.S. Capitol on June 12, 2024, in Washington, D.C.
Sen. Tammy Duckworth speaks alongside Sen. Cory Booker outside of the U.S. Capitol on June 12, 2024, in Washington, D.C.  Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images

One measure would create a statutory right for access to assisted reproductive services like IVF. Duckworth tried to secure passage of the bill in February under unanimous consent, but one Republican senator objected, claiming that it would go too far. The package also includes a measure geared toward expanding access to the fertility treatments for veterans, which was likewise blocked by a Republican senator earlier this year. Other provisions are aimed at lowering costs for Americans by requiring insurance plans to cover IVF. 

Another push related to reproductive rights fell short in the Senate last week, when Democrats tried to advance legislation protecting access to contraception, with most Republicans opposing the measure. The two votes come as part of an effort by Democrats to highlight reproductive rights this month, with an eye toward the November elections, which Republicans have criticized. But Schumer argues that the votes aren’t mere messaging votes. 

“Protecting IVF, like protecting contraception, is not a show vote,” Schumer said at a news conference on Wednesday. “It’s a show-us-who-you-are vote.”

However, Senate Democrats want to put Republicans on the record over the issues related to reproductive rights issues, which has been a driving force at the polls. 

“Every single Republican needs to answer clearly for the record: do you want our laws to protect IVF or do you want laws that say frozen embryos have the same rights as living, breathing human beings?” Murray said at a news conference on Wednesday. “You cannot have both.” 

When it comes to IVF, although Senate Republicans have expressed support for the fertility treatments in the wake of the Alabama ruling, lawmakers are at odds over a path forward that would satisfy both parties. 

Last month, two Senate Republicans, Sens. Ted Cruz of Texas and Katie Britt of Alabama, introduced legislation to protect access to the procedure, urging bipartisan support. But Democrats quickly pushed back on the legislation, questioning its scope and enforcement mechanism.

The GOP bill, called the IVF Protection Act, would require that states “do not prohibit in vitro fertilization” as a condition for the states to receive federal funding for Medicaid, which provides health insurance for low-income Americans. The bill doesn’t compel an organization or individual to provide IVF services, and it doesn’t preclude states from otherwise regulating IVF, which Democrats generally oppose. 

On Wednesday, Cruz and Britt attempted to approve the legislation under unanimous consent, in order to preempt the Democrat-led vote on Thursday. But Murray blocked the move, calling it a “PR tool” and argued that it’s “ridiculous to claim that this bill protects IVF when it does nothing of the sort.”

Murray and other Democrats have highlighted concerns over granting personhood rights to embryos, since embryos are often discarded during fertility treatments. They’ve warned that the GOP legislation doesn’t address the handling of frozen embryos, which could threaten access to the fertility treatments, while saying it’s an intentional move to appeal to the anti-abortion movement.

All 49 Senate Republicans signed on to a statement released later Wednesday reiterating their support for the fertility treatments, saying they “strongly support continued nationwide access to IVF.”

Some Republicans argue, as they did ahead of the contraception vote, that IVF isn’t under fire. But Democrats say the Alabama ruling tells a different story. And on Wednesday, the country’s largest Protestant denomination adopted a resolution criticizing IVF, calling on Southern Baptists to “reaffirm the unconditional value and fight to life of every human being, including those in an embryonic stage.”

Alan He contributed reporting.

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