Senate Republicans on Tuesday blocked a Democrat-sponsored bill that would protect access to in vitro fertilization and other assistive reproductive technology.

“On a vote of 48 to 47, all but two Republicans opposed advancing the bill, which would give Americans the statutory right to receive fertility treatments and decide how their reproductive material is used, stored and disposed of,” The New York Times reported. “That left the measure well short of the 60 votes it needed to move forward, an outcome Democrats anticipated and even welcomed as part of their strategy to remind voters where Republicans stand on issues of abortion and reproductive health.”

Republican Sens. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Susan Collins of Maine, broke ranks with their colleagues to support the bill.

The bill is the Right to IVF Act, sponsored by Sens. Patty Murray, D-Wash., Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill., and Cory Booker, D-N.J. It would codify the right to the fertility treatment and require those who insure government employees, military families and veterans to cover treatment. The bill would supersede any state-level attempt to restrict access to IVF.

According to The Associated Press, “After Roe v. Wade was overturned, questions on reproductive care have mostly been turned over to individual states. For a time earlier this year, several clinics in Alabama suspended IVF treatment after the state’s Supreme Court ruled frozen embryos can be considered children under state law. The state later enacted a law providing legal protections for IVF clinics, but Democrats have argued that Congress should act to guarantee nationwide access to reproductive care like IVF and contraception.”

The vote came the day after the Southern Baptist Convention voted to oppose use of in vitro fertilization, as Deseret News reported. “The resolution on IVF, approved at the convention’s annual gathering, says that Southern Baptists should ‘reaffirm the unconditional value and right to life of every human being,’ including embryos, and use only ‘reproductive technologies consistent with that affirmation,’” per the article.

About IVF

In vitro fertilization is the most common form of assistive reproductive technology used in the U.S. to help couples who have trouble conceiving. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, “in 2021, 86,146 infants (2.3% of all babies born in the U.S.) were conceived with reproductive assistance. With IVF, women preserve their eggs, sperm or reproductive tissues to have children later.”

IVF is also used to preserve future ability to have children of females undergoing treatment for cancer, when that treatment could harm their eggs. The article said that “in 2018, over 69% of the 120,000 individuals of reproductive age diagnosed with cancer required fertility preservation procedures and services, now considered a standard of care.”

An estimated 12 million U.S. babies have been born through in vitro fertilization, according to federal statistics.

Mixed messaging

The addition of IVF to the abortion debate is tricky territory, as it is a procedure that allows more babies to be born, but also can involve creating multiple embryos and only using one or two. What happens to the others is the heart of the discussion.

NBC News reported that “before the vote, GOP senators said they favor legal IVF but prefer a narrower bill.” Murray criticized the Republican bill, saying it “has huge loopholes that would let states restrict IVF in all different kinds of ways. It purposefully ignores what happens to unused embryos and it would do nothing to stop fetal personhood laws from totally upending IVF care.”

Related
Major Christian group votes to oppose IVF, adding to national debate over future of the procedure

Per NBC, “Ahead of the vote, Senate Republicans moved to express their support for IVF. They sought to advance a narrower bill that would cut off Medicaid funding for states if they banned IVF. All 49 GOP senators signed a statement by Sen. Katie Britt, R-Ala., accusing Democrats of waging ‘a partisan campaign of false fearmongering intended to mislead and confuse the American people.’”

“We strongly support continued nationwide access to IVF, which has allowed millions of aspiring parents to start and grow their families,” the senators said in a joint statement.

The Washington Post wrote that Donald Trump, expected to be the GOP presidential nominee, issued a statement supporting IVF, noting that Republicans “want to make it easier for mothers and fathers to have babies, not harder.”

Meanwhile, President Joe Biden blasted the vote, pointing out that the week before, Senate Republicans blocked a proposal to guarantee access to contraception. “This disregard for a woman’s right to make these decisions for herself and her family is outrageous and unacceptable,” he said in a statement.

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Republican Sen. Joni Ernst of Iowa is sponsoring a separate bill to protect contraception access, according to CNN.

The public view

A Pew Research Center survey published in May found overwhelming support for access to IVF, with 70% saying it’s a good thing. Only 8% are opposed. The rest are unsure. Women and men are similar in their views and most religious groups also support IVF. Pew reported that “white nonevangelical Protestants and religiously unaffiliated Americans are particularly likely to say IVF access is a good thing (78% each). Clear majorities of white evangelicals (63%), Black Protestants (69%) and Catholics (65%) also say this.”

So do 6 in 10 Republicans, compared to 1 in 10 who deem it bad. Nearly 3 in 10 aren’t sure. Among Democrats, 79% call IVF a good thing, while 5% consider it bad. Sixteen percent aren’t sure.

The Wall Street Journal reported that “abortion and fights over related issues such as IVF and contraception are expected to drive turnout” in the 2024 presidential election.

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