Senate Republicans block bill on women's right to IVF as Democrats make push on reproductive care

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.

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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 also expand access through insurance as well as for military members and veterans.

“These are real solutions that would help tens of thousands of Americans every year build the families of their dreams,” Duckworth, D-Ill., said this week.

But almost all Republicans voted against advancing the measure, ensuring that it fell short of the 60 votes needed. Instead, GOP senators offered their own, alternative legislation that would discourage states from enacting outright 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. “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, yes or no?”

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.

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.

Senate Democrats said it showed how all types of reproductive care could be upended in many parts of the country after Roe v. Wade was overturned.

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 House lawmakers on Thursday morning 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 meeting.

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.

Sen. Patty Murray, the Washington Democrat who objected to quickly passing the GOP bill, dismissed it as “nothing but a PR stunt."

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.

With the Senate deadlocked on the issue, advocates for access to the treatment said families would 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 the 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.

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