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Senate Republicans block bill to protect access to IVF

Senate Republicans block bill to protect access to IVF

Amanda Visser holds her embryo-adopted six-month-old sons Collin and Jackson at her home, Monday, May 13, 2024 (AP Photo/Jack Dempsey)

By Keya Vakil, Isabel Soisson

June 13, 2024

Thursday’s vote was the second time Republicans blocked legislation to protect IVF, after they blocked the same bill in February, and comes just one week after they similarly blocked an effort from Democrats to guarantee nationwide access to birth control.

Senate Republicans on Thursday blocked a bill that would protect access to In vitro fertilization (IVF), obstructing an effort from Democrats to guard the widely-used form of fertility care against any potential state-level bans. 

The vote to advance the legislation—dubbed The Right to IVF Act—failed, with only 48 votes in favor, short of the 60 needed to move forward and overcome a Senate filibuster. Only two Republicans joined Democrats and independents in seeking to advance the bill. 

The legislation would have established a federal right for individuals to access IVF, for providers to offer the treatment, and for insurers to cover it without obstruction from states.

The future of IVF has come into question in recent months, after Alabama’s Supreme Court issued a ruling in February declaring embryos had the same rights as children, a move that threatened to limit or eliminate access to IVF treatments in the state.

While additional legislation was passed to protect Alabama IVF clinics and patients from criminal charges for damaging or destroying unused embryos—a common occurrence during the IVF process, as embryos are screened for viability—the initial ruling emphasized broader concerns about how anti-abortion groups might take aim at the fertility industry, especially in the event of a second presidential term for Donald Trump.

Warning that Republicans could seek to restrict access to IVF if Trump wins, Democrats sought to pass federal protections for IVF.

“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 (D-New York) said Thursday morning before 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?”

All but two Republicans—Sens. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Susan Collins of Maine—seemed to disagree, voting against the bill. 

Republican Sens. Katie Britt of Alabama and Ted Cruz of Texas have introduced their own, narrower bill they claim would protect IVF, but that legislation would only cut off Medicaid funding for states if they banned IVF. It would still allow states to “implement health and safety standards regarding the practice of IVF,” according to a press release from Britt’s office.

A growing threat to IVF

Thursday’s vote was the second time Republicans blocked legislation to protect IVF, after they blocked the same bill in February, and comes just one week after they similarly blocked an effort from Democrats to guarantee nationwide access to birth control.

In a statement, President Biden criticized Republicans for their refusal to protect access to fertility care and birth control.

“The disregard for a woman’s right to make these decisions for herself and her family is outrageous and unacceptable,” Biden said. “Republican officials have had every opportunity to protect reproductive freedom since the Supreme Court’s extreme decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, but they refuse to do so. Instead, Republicans’ dangerous, out-of-touch agenda is devastating women’s health and lives.”

While Republicans insist they have no plans to target IVF, many of their allies in the conservative movement are eager to impose restrictions on the fertility treatment. 

In a March post from the Heritage Foundation, Senior Research Associate Emma Waters said that Congress should set standards to “prevent the wanton or careless destruction of embryonic human beings,” eliminate pre-implantation genetic testing that provides information about the health of each embryo, limit the number of embryos created per round of IVF, and even prohibit anonymous sperm and egg donation.

“There are profound moral issues with the way IVF is practiced in the U.S.—in many cases, amounting to eugenics,” Waters wrote. 

And just this week, the Southern Baptist Convention, the largest Protestant denomination in the United States and a major player in right-wing political circles, called for restrictions on IVF.

Delegates at the Southern Baptists’ annual convention adopted a resolution criticizing IVF on Wednesday, saying that the procedure “routinely generates more embryos than can be safely implanted, thus resulting in the continued freezing, stockpiling, and ultimate destruction of human embryos, some of whom may also be subjected to medical experimentation.”

The delegates called on their fellow church members to “reaffirm the unconditional value and right to life of every human being, including those in an embryonic stage” and urged them to “only utilize reproductive technologies consistent with that affirmation especially in the number of embryos generated in the IVF process.”

The resolution added that those planning on using IVF should consider “adopting frozen embryos.”

The delegates also called on members to “advocate for the government to restrain actions inconsistent with the dignity and value of every human being, which necessarily includes frozen embryonic human beings.”

That decision is likely to create even more pressure on Republicans, as many of their voters hail from Southern Baptist congregations.

Despite the conservative opposition to IVF, it remains broadly popular in the US, with 86% of American adults believing it should be legal, according to a recent poll.

Authors

  • Keya Vakil

    Keya Vakil is the deputy political editor at COURIER. He previously worked as a researcher in the film industry and dabbled in the political world.

  • Isabel Soisson

    Isabel Soisson is a multimedia journalist who has worked at WPMT FOX43 TV in Harrisburg, along with serving various roles at CNBC, NBC News, Philadelphia Magazine, and Philadelphia Style Magazine.

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