Senate Republicans block bill protecting access to IVF despite prior support

Washington DC - Senate Republicans on Thursday blocked a bill recognizing a legal right to in vitro fertilization, introduced as part of a Democratic drive to underline threats to reproductive freedoms ahead of November's elections.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) calls on a reporter during a press conference following a vote to protect access to IVF treatment on Capitol Hill on Thursday in Washington, DC.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) calls on a reporter during a press conference following a vote to protect access to IVF treatment on Capitol Hill on Thursday in Washington, DC.  © Anna Rose Layden/Getty Images/AFP Anna Rose Layden / GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA / Getty Images via AFP

The legislation would have established a federal right to IVF – an infertility treatment combining an egg with sperm in a lab – and for providers to offer the procedure, with expanded insurance coverage to lower costs.

The vast majority of Americans tell pollsters IVF is morally acceptable, but the country is divided over the destruction of frozen human embryos created by the procedure.

The bill needed the support of 60 senators in a preliminary vote to get the debate started but could only garner backing from 48, with just two Republicans crossing the aisle.

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"All this bill does is establish a nationwide right to IVF and eliminates barriers for millions of Americans who seek IVF to have kids," Democratic majority leader Chuck Schumer said on the Senate floor.

"It's personal to me. I have a beautiful 1-year-old grandson because of the miracle of IVF."

The use of IVF became a hot-button election issue after the Alabama Supreme Court ruled in February that frozen embryos were children, meaning that those who destroy them can be held liable for their death.

In a Gallup poll released Thursday, 82% of respondents said IVF is morally acceptable. 49% said it is okay to destroy frozen human embryos while 43% said it is not.

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Vice President Kamala Harris speaks during a campaign rally to Restore Roe at Hylton Performing Arts Center in Manassas, Virginia, on January 23, 2024.
Vice President Kamala Harris speaks during a campaign rally to Restore Roe at Hylton Performing Arts Center in Manassas, Virginia, on January 23, 2024.  © SAUL LOEB / AFP

But Republicans said the legislation went too far, and accused Democrats of staging a "show vote" to spread alarm over IVF access.

"Let's be clear: No one is trying to ban IVF. Not one senator," said Texas conservative Ted Cruz.

Reproductive rights have been an effective political cudgel for Democrats in the two years since the conservative-leaning Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 decision that made abortion a constitutionally protected right.

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The bench had been bolstered by three judges appointed by Republican former president and current candidate Donald Trump.

"Since the Court overturned Roe, in states across our nation, extremists have proposed and passed laws that threaten access not only to abortion but to contraception and IVF," Vice President Kamala Harris said in a statement.

"Donald Trump has thrown our healthcare system into chaos and stripped away fundamental freedoms that Americans counted on for decades."

Thursday's vote came a day after Democrats blocked a scaled-back Republican bill that would cut off Medicaid – a government program providing health insurance for low-income individuals – for states if they banned IVF.

"Their bill would allow states to regulate IVF out of existence," said Patty Murray, one of a trio of senators who led the Democratic legislation.

Cover photo: Anna Rose Layden/Getty Images/AFP Anna Rose Layden / GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA / Getty Images via AFP

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