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Republican IVF bill fails in U.S. Senate

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Republican IVF bill fails in U.S. Senate

Jun 12, 2024 | 6:09 pm ET
By Jennifer Shutt
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Republican IVF bill fails in U.S. Senate
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Washington Democratic U.S. Sen. Patty Murray speaks during a press conference on in vitro fertilization outside the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday, June 12, 2024. Also pictured are supporters of Senate Democrats’ IVF access bill as well as New Jersey Democratic Sen. Cory Booker and Illinois Democratic Sen. Tammy Duckworth. (Jennifer Shutt/States Newsroom)

WASHINGTON — Alabama Republican Sen. Katie Britt’s efforts to pass legislation that would block Medicaid funding from going to states that ban in vitro fertilization were unsuccessful Wednesday when Democrats blocked the bill from advancing.

Britt, who introduced the legislation earlier this year alongside Texas Republican Sen. Ted Cruz, said during brief debate the bill would assuage concerns about couples losing access to IVF, though Democrats said the measure fell short of providing real protections.

Debate took place shortly after the Southern Baptist Convention, the United States’ largest Protestant religious organization and one with significant influence in conservative politics, voted to condemn IVF.

It also came one day before the entire U.S. Senate is set to vote on a bill from Democrats that would provide nationwide protections for IVF. That measure also lacks the bipartisan backing needed to advance to final passage.

“For the millions of Americans who face infertility every year, IVF provides the hope of a pathway to parenthood,” Britt said on the floor. “We all have loved ones — whether they’re family members or friends — who have become parents or grandparents through IVF.”

Britt said that ensuring access to IVF is “fundamentally pro-family” and that the legislation should provide couples with “certainty and peace of mind that IVF will remain legal and available in every single state.”

Washington Democratic Sen. Patty Murray said the Britt-Cruz bill would still allow states to “enact burdensome and unnecessary” regulations on IVF that could lead to the kind of “legal uncertainty and risk” that forced IVF clinics in Alabama to close temporarily earlier this year.

“Even though it is an inherent part of the IVF process that families will make more embryos than they need,” Murray said. “This bill does absolutely nothing — not a single thing — to ensure families who use IVF can have their clinics dispose of unused embryos without facing legal threats for a standard medical procedure.”

Murray said GOP senators were completely ignoring the issue of what happens to frozen embryos and using the bill as a “PR tool.”

“The stone-cold reality is that you cannot protect IVF and champion fetal personhood,” Murray said.

State access

The Britt-Cruz legislation would prevent a state from receiving Medicaid funding if it barred access to IVF, though the bill didn’t say anything about states that define life as beginning at fertilization.

The Alabama state Supreme Court ruling earlier this year that frozen embryos constituted children didn’t explicitly ban IVF, but all of the state’s clinics stopped operating until the legislature provided civil and criminal protections.

Cruz sought to pass the bill using the unanimous consent process, where any one senator can ask for approval and any one senator can block that legislation from moving forward. Murray blocked Cruz’s request.

Unanimous consent requests don’t include a recorded vote.

The legislation had three additional co-sponsors — Cynthia Lummis of Wyoming, Roger Wicker of Mississippi and Roger Marshall of Kansas.

Democrat bill

The Senate is set to take a procedural vote as soon as Thursday on legislation from Democrats that would bolster protections for IVF, though that bill isn’t expected to get the GOP support needed to move forward.

That bill is more detailed and broader than the Britt-Cruz bill, which has received criticism from Democrats as being insufficient.

New Jersey Democratic Sen. Cory Booker said Wednesday during a press conference that access to IVF shouldn’t be turned into a political issue and called on GOP senators to back the bill.

“We can’t make this seem like a left-right issue. It’s absolutely not,” Booker said. “This is an issue that’s overwhelmingly supported in America by Republican families, Democratic families and independent families. And so trying to make this into some kind of typical political debate in Washington is just wrong.”

Booker said protecting access to IVF is, instead, “about protecting fundamental rights, expanding opportunity, taking care of our military families.”

Illinois Democratic Sen. Tammy Duckworth, the bill’s lead co-sponsor who has been open about using IVF to have her two daughters, threw cool water on working with Republicans on a bipartisan bill when asked about the possibility during the press conference.

“Well, they’re welcome to join ours and make it bipartisan. We’ve got 47 co-sponsors thus far and it’s a very simple piece of legislation,” Duckworth said. “I can’t see why they wouldn’t join it.

“In contrast, 90% of Republicans have not signed on to Senator Britt’s bill,” Duckworth added.

Southern Baptists’ resolution

Senate debate on in vitro fertilization is taking place the same week the Southern Baptist Convention meets in Indiana for its annual convention.

During that two-day gathering more than 10,000 Baptists, called messengers, voted on official policies of the SBC, which included objecting to how IVF is practiced now.

The SBC wrote in its resolution that IVF “most often engages in the destruction of embryonic human life and increasingly engages in dehumanizing methods for determining suitability for life and genetic sorting, based on notions of genetic fitness and parental preferences.”

The resolution on IVF “resolved” that members of the SBC should “only utilize reproductive technologies consistent with that affirmation” as well as several other affirmations within the document.

The resolution was titled, “On the Ethical Realities of Reproductive Technologies and the Dignity of the Human Embryo.”

Kristen Ferguson, from 11th Street Baptist Church in Upland, California, who announced the resolution before the vote, opposed an amendment that would have made several changes to the text.

Ferguson said during a brief debate the committee that wrote the resolutions for the SBC to vote on wanted to make sure it addressed IVF “with the utmost sensitivity.”

She added that members of the resolutions committee did “not take this topic lightly and we want to make sure that we’re speaking carefully about it.”