Senate Republicans Reject Democrats’ Bill On IVF Protections

Jennifer Shutt, Kentucky Lantern

U.S. Senate Democrats’ attempts to bolster reproductive rights failed again Thursday when Republicans blocked a bill guaranteeing access to in vitro fertilization from moving forward.

The 48-47 procedural vote came just one day after Republicans tried unsuccessfully to pass their own IVF access bill and one week after GOP senators prevented legislation from advancing that would have bolstered protections for access to contraception. Senate rules require 60 votes to proceed on most legislation.

Maine Sen. Susan Collins and Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski, both Republicans, broke with their GOP colleagues to support the IVF measure moving toward a final vote. The two also voted for cloture on the contraception access bill last week.

During both debates, the vast majority of Senate Republicans said the bills went too far or were too broad, a characterization that Democrats vehemently rejected, calling the GOP stance on certain reproductive rights out of step with most Americans.

Washington Democratic Sen. Patty Murray said during floor debate the bill would ensure patients have a right to access IVF and that doctors have a right to provide that fertility treatment, as well as require more health insurance companies to cover IVF.

The package included additional provisions that would “help more veterans and service members, who have trouble conceiving, get the critical fertility services they need to start their families, including IVF,” Murray said.

“This is something I’ve long been pushing for, for years now, and it is long overdue,” Murray said. “All these men and women, who fought to protect our families, we owe it to them to make sure they have the support when they come home to grow theirs.”

Murray said advancing the bill should not be “controversial, especially if Republicans are serious about” supporting access to IVF.

“As we saw in Alabama, the threat to IVF is not hypothetical, it is not overblown and it is not fear mongering,” Murray said.

‘A show vote’

Louisiana Republican Sen. Bill Cassidy spoke out against the bill during floor debate, saying it was not a serious effort at legislating and that no state currently bans access to IVF.

“I have been sitting here listening to this and I can’t help but notice my Democratic fellow senators have chosen to disrespect and deceive the American people as they politicize a deeply personal issue for short-term political gain,” he said.

Cassidy, ranking member on the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, said that had Democrats been serious about moving this bill, they would have put it up for debate in committee before bringing it to the floor.

He also criticized the legislation for requiring private insurance companies to provide unlimited fertility treatments, but setting a cap on how many treatments a veteran could receive from a Veterans Affairs clinic.

Republicans, Cassidy said, “are so open to working with Democrats on a sincere, bipartisan effort. But this is a show vote.”

“Today’s vote is disingenuous — pushing a bill haphazardly drafted and destined to fail does a disservice to all who may pursue IVF treatments,” Cassidy said.

GOP bill

The Senate vote came one day after Alabama Sen. Katie Britt and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, both Republicans, attempted to pass their IVF bill through a fast-track process called unanimous consent.

Their legislation would have blocked Medicaid funding from going to any state that bans IVF, though Democrats argued the measure wouldn’t actually have guarded against states classifying frozen embryos as children.

Britt said during debate on her bill Wednesday that she strongly supported nationwide access to IVF.

“Across America, about 2% of babies born are born because of IVF — that is about 200 babies per day,” Britt said. “So think about the magnitude of that number and the faces and the stories and the dreams it represents. In recent decades, millions of people have been born with the help of IVF.”

Murray blocked the Britt-Cruz bill from passing the Senate on Wednesday after Cruz asked unanimous consent to approve the measure. There was no recorded vote.

Protecting access

Senate Democrats’ IVF access bill was introduced by Illinois Democratic Sen. Tammy Duckworth, Murray and New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker earlier this month.

The 64-page bill would have provided a right for people to access IVF and for doctors to provide that health care without the state or federal government “enacting harmful or unwarranted limitations or requirements.”

The measure included provisions that would have bolstered access to IVF for members of the military and veterans as well as spouses, partners, or gestational surrogates.

The legislation defines fertility treatment as “preserving human oocytes, sperm, or embryos for later reproductive use; artificial insemination; genetic testing of embryos; use of medications for fertility; and gamete donation.”

The bill defines assisted reproductive technology as “including in vitro fertilization and other treatments or procedures in which reproductive genetic material, such as oocytes, sperm, fertilized eggs, and embryos, are handled, when clinically appropriate.”

Duckworth tried to pass a similar bill through unanimous consent back in February. But Mississippi Republican Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith blocked approval through the fast-track unanimous consent process. There was no recorded vote at the time.

Personal experience

Duckworth has talked openly about her struggles to start a family and use of IVF throughout her time as a senator, including this year after the Alabama state Supreme Court ruled that frozen embryos constituted children under state law.

During floor debate Thursday, she spoke again about her own experiences with IVF, which she said is the reason she gets to put her 6-year-old’s drawings up on her Senate office wall and get tackled by her 9-year-old on Mother’s Day.

“I didn’t know it at the time back then, but infertility would become one of the most heartbreaking struggles of my life,” Duckworth said of her 23 years in the military that included a helicopter crash in which she lost her legs. “My miscarriage, more painful than any wound I ever earned on the battlefield.”

Duckworth said Republican opposition to the bill shows a lack of “common decency and common sense.”

“Excuse me if I find it a bit offensive when a bunch of politicians, who’ve never spent a day in med school, hint that those of us who’ve needed the help of IVF to become moms should be sitting behind bars rather than lulling our babies to sleep in rocking chairs.”

Kentucky Lantern is part of States Newsroom, a nonprofit news network supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Kentucky Lantern maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Jamie Lucke for questions: info@kentuckylantern.com. Follow Kentucky Lantern on Facebook and X.

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