Senate Republicans Block Bill On Women’s Right To Ivf As Democrats Make Push On Reproductive Care

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., speaks to reporters about a vote to protect rights for access to in vitro fertilization to achieve pregnancy, at the Capitol in Washington, Wednesday, June 12, 2024. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., speaks to reporters about a vote to protect rights for access to in vitro fertilization to achieve pregnancy, at the Capitol in Washington, Wednesday, June 12, 2024. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

WASHINGTON (AP) — Senate Republicans blocked legislation that would make it a right nationwide for women to access in vitro fertilization and other fertility treatments after Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer forced a vote on the matter Thursday in an effort to drive an election-year contrast on reproductive care.

Sen. Tammy Duckworth, a military veteran who has used the fertility treatment to have her two children, has championed the bill, called the Right to IVF Act. The bill would have also expanded access through insurance as well as for military members and veterans.

“As a mom who struggled with infertility for years, as a parent who needed IVF to have my two beautiful little girls, all I can say to my Republican colleagues in this moment is, ‘How dare you,’” Duckworth, D-Ill., said following the vote.

All Republicans except Sens. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Susan Collins of Maine voted against advancing the measure, ensuring that it only gained 48 votes — well short of the 60 votes needed. Instead, GOP senators offered their own, alternative legislation that would discourage states from enacting explicit bans on the treatment. Democrats in turn blocked it Wednesday.

The overtly political back-and-forth, with no attempt at finding a legislative compromise, showed how quickly Congress has shifted into a campaign mindset five months out from the fall election.

As Schumer seeks to protect a narrow Senate majority and buoy Democrats' hopes of holding the White House, he has sought to spotlight Republican intransigence to federal legislation that would guarantee women's rights to reproductive care. Democrats have campaigned heavily on the issue ever since the 2022 Supreme Court decision that ended a federal right to abortion.

“The anti-abortion movement is not yet finished. Now that Roe is gone, they have set their sights to a new target — in vitro fertilization,” Schumer said on the Senate floor Thursday.

Schumer, a New York Democrat, also held a vote last week on legislation to protect access to contraception, but Republicans blocked it, arguing it was nothing more than a political stunt. Republicans have also blocked previous attempts to quickly pass IVF protections. They stressed that they support IVF and said Schumer was once again playing to the campaign trail with Thursday's vote.

Sen. Bill Cassidy, a Louisiana Republican, said Democrats were trying to “politicize a deeply personal issue for short term political gain.” He added that Schumer had brought the bill to the floor without allowing the committee work and studies that usually mark a serious piece of legislation.

Still, Schumer said he would continue to bring up legislation on reproductive care.

“Republicans are twisting themselves in knots trying to run away from their very record on reproductive freedom,” he said at a news conference following the vote.

Democrats took to the Senate floor Thursday to make a series of speeches that highlighted personal stories of how people have been able to have children using IVF. They say Congress must protect access to the fertility treatment after the Supreme Court in 2022 allowed states to ban abortions and the Alabama Supreme Court in February ruled that frozen embryos can be considered children under state law. Several clinics in the state suspended IVF treatments until the state enacted a law to provide legal protections for IVF clinics.

“After the Alabama Supreme Court ruled that a frozen embryo is the same, has the exact same rights as a living, breathing person, women who waited for months and spent tens of thousands of dollars and were days away from an IVF appointment were left to wonder if it was all for nothing when their treatment was abruptly canceled,” said Sen. Patty Murray, a Washington Democrat.

Most Republicans in Congress, meanwhile, have expressed support for IVF, but have also largely declined to tell states how to regulate reproductive care. Donald Trump, the presumptive Republican GOP presidential nominee, met with lawmakers on Thursday and told them that abortion rules should be left to the states. He also said he supported exceptions for rape, incest and to save the life of the mother, according to Republicans in the meetings.

Republicans are seeking to come up with a response to voters' concerns about access to abortion and reproductive care — an issue that is expected to figure largely in the November election. Following the Supreme Court's ruling Thursday that preserved access to the abortion pill mifepristone, anti-abortion groups expressed dismay while most Republicans remained quiet.

In the Senate this week, Republicans highlighted their efforts to expand access to fertility treatments, yet stopped short of endorsing the Democratic plan.

Sen. Rick Scott, a Florida Republican, said in a floor speech this week that his daughter was currently receiving IVF treatment and spoke of a proposal to expand the flexibility of health savings accounts. Two other GOP Republicans, Sens. Katie Britt of Alabama and Ted Cruz of Texas, also tried to quickly pass a bill that would threaten to withhold Medicaid funding for states where IVF is banned.

Democrats blocked that bill on Wednesday.

Cruz, who is running for reelection in Texas, said it showed Democrats were making a “cynical political decision.”

“They don’t want to provide reassurance and comfort to millions of parents in America because instead, they want to spend millions of dollars running campaign ads suggesting the big, bad Republicans want to take away IVF,” he said in a speech on the Senate floor.

Democrats argued that the GOP bill was insufficient because it would still allow states to enact laws that grant embryos or fetuses the same rights as a person. Abortion opponents in over a dozen states have advanced legislation based on the concept of fetal rights.

Murray, who objected to quickly passing the GOP bill, said the bill was flawed because it is “silent on whether parents should be allowed to have clinics dispose of unused embryos — something that is a common and necessary part of the IVF process.”

But Republicans also criticized the Democratic bill. Britt said it “extends far past IVF. It also treads on religious freedom and protection."

In the wake of the Alabama Supreme Court ruling, Christians, who have been a driving force in the anti-abortion movement based on the belief life begins at or around conception, have wrestled with the fertility treatment.

The Southern Baptist Convention this week approved a nonbinding resolution that cautioned couples about using IVF. The resolution lamented that the creation of surplus frozen embryos often results in the “destruction of embryonic human life.”

The bill proposed by Britt and Cruz also came under criticism from the Heritage Foundation, a conservative group that has pushed for stringent regulations on IVF clinics.

With the Senate deadlocked on the issue, advocates for access to the treatment said families would still be left in uncertainty.

Jamie Heard, who lives in Birmingham and had to suspend her effort to have a second child using IVF when the state Supreme Court made its decision, said that ruling left her both scared and angry. She has been able to continue the treatment, yet spoke alongside other IVF advocates at the Capitol Wednesday to urge lawmakers to act.

“There are still a lot of questions that we have about how to move forward,” Heard said.