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Republicans Block Senate Bill to Protect Nationwide Access to IVF Treatments

February 28, 2024

WASHINGTON — Senate Republicans have blocked legislation that would protect access to in vitro fertilization, objecting to a vote on the issue Wednesday even after widespread backlash to a recent ruling by the Alabama Supreme Court that threatens the practice.

Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith, a Mississippi Republican, objected to a request for a vote by Sen. Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill., who used IVF treatments to have her two children after struggling with years of infertility. Duckworth’s bill would establish a federal right to the treatments as the Alabama ruling has upended fertility care in the state and families who had already started the process face heartbreak and uncertainty.

Several clinics in the state announced they were pausing IVF services as they sort out last week’s ruling, which said that frozen embryos can be considered children under state law. The court said that three Alabama couples who lost frozen embryos during an accident at a storage facility could sue the fertility clinic and hospital for the wrongful death of a minor child.

Democrats have immediately seized on the election-year ruling, warning that other states could follow Alabama’s lead and that other rights could be threatened as well in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe vs. Wade and the federal right to an abortion in 2022. Congress passed similar legislation in 2022 that would protect the federal right to same-sex and interracial marriages.

“Mark my words, if we don’t act now, it will only get worse,” Duckworth said.

Abortion opponents have pushed laws in at least 15 states based on the idea that a fetus should have the same rights as a person.

Hyde-Smith defended the Alabama Supreme Court decision that found frozen embryos can be considered children under state law. She pointed out that it originated with a pair of wrongful death cases brought by three couples who had frozen embryos destroyed in an accident at a fertility clinic.

“I support the ability for mothers and fathers to have total access to IVF and bringing new life into the world. I also believe human life should be protected,” Hyde-Smith said.

Sen. Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill., speaks about a bill to establish federal protections for IVF as Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., right, listens during a press event on Capitol Hill, Tuesday, Feb. 27, 2024, in Washington. (AP Photo/Mark Schiefelbein)

At the same time, three providers in Alabama have paused the often-used fertility treatments while they sort out the legal implications. Alabama lawmakers are scrambling to find ways to protect the treatments. And former President Donald Trump, the front-runner for the GOP presidential nomination, said he would “strongly support the availability of IVF.” Trump called on lawmakers in Alabama to preserve access to the treatment.

Many GOP lawmakers also reinforced their support for IVF services.

Soon after the decision, Alabama Sen. Katie Britt made calls to fellow Republicans, including Trump, to argue for the importance of supporting the treatments, emphasizing that they are pro-life and pro-family, according to a person familiar with the calls.

In a statement after the ruling, Britt said that “defending life and ensuring continued access to IVF services for loving parents are not mutually exclusive.”

Other Republicans agreed. Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, one of the more vocal opponents of abortion in the Senate, said he supports IVF and believes it is “entirely life affirming.” Kansas Sen. Roger Marshall, a former obstetrician, said he’d referred patients for IVF treatments for 25 years in his practice. “We are the pro-family party, and there’s nothing more pro-family than helping couples have a baby,” Marshall said.

Still, this is the second time Republicans have blocked Duckworth’s bill. By Bringing it up again, Democrats said they are challenging GOP senators to display real support for IVF access after many this week issued statements criticizing the Alabama ruling. Democrats held the Senate floor for 45 minutes Wednesday with a series of speeches deriding the overturn of Roe v. Wade.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said on Tuesday that Republicans who have denounced the Alabama ruling “are like the arsonist who set a house on fire and say, why is it burning?”

For Duckworth, the bill holds deep personal significance. After she was seriously injured while piloting a Black Hawk helicopter in Iraq, she became an amputee and was only able to have her own children, ages 5 and 9, through IVF.

“After a decade struggling with infertility after my service in Iraq, I was only able to get pregnant through the miracle of IVF,” Duckworth said on the Senate floor. “IVF is the reason I get to experience the chaos and the beauty, the stress and the joy, that is motherhood.”

She called her infertility “one of the most heartbreaking struggles of my life. My miscarriage more painful than any wound I ever earned on the battlefield.”

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