Senators clash over impact of Dobbs ruling on IVF, other reproductive rights

March 22, 2024

Senate Democrats argued Wednesday that restrictions on in-vitro fertilization (IVF) are the first in what will be a wave of unexpected barriers to women’s reproductive health access resulting from the overturning of Roe v. Wade. Senate Republicans said they’ve done the work to protect IVF access.

The hearing was the third on the topic of abortion since the Supreme Court’s Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization decision overturned Roe in 2022.

Senate Judiciary Committee Chair Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) argued the decision opened the door to “heartbreaking” rulings, such as the Alabama Superior Court’s determination that frozen embryos are children, causing IVF treatment providers in Alabama to pause services. 

Lourdes A. Rivera, president of nonprofit organization Pregnancy Justice, told the committee that many reproductive health issues are connected, and rulings on one issue often impact others. 

“If you’ve defined fertilized eggs, embryos and fetuses as legal persons with independent rights, it’s gonna affect everyone,” Rivera said. “It’s going to affect abortion, it’s going to affect access to IVF, it’s going to affect contraception and it’s going to affect the quality of health care that pregnant women and pregnant people are entitled to.”

Ranking Member Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) argued Alabama legislators corrected the court’s ruling when they passed a law protecting IVF clinics and patients from lawsuits or criminal charges from “the death or damage to an embryo.” He said Republicans are “absolutely committed” to ensuring IVF is available to families.

Graham emphasized that he supported Americans in growing their families, and suggested encouraging people to participate in IVF with a tax credit. 

“Somebody’s got to pay my Social Security — the more children the better,” Graham said jokingly. 

Rep. Michelle Fischbach (R-Minn.), who served as a witness during the hearing, argued the meeting was an effort by Democratic committee members to mislead Americans into relating IVF with abortion access, and to “pretend like Republicans are launching an assault on reproductive rights.” 

“But they hide behind false narratives like this, to drive their political agenda and to conceal deeply troubling features of their pro abortion agenda,” Fischbach said.

Senate Democrats are working on passing legislation establishing a statutory right to IVF, and have received their first bipartisan supporters in two New York Republicans co-sponsoring a companion bill in the House.

GOP lawmakers have argued the bill opens the door for forms of genetic engineering, and would take away doctors’ rights to refuse to administer an abortion for religious or moral reasons. 

Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-Miss.) claimed the bill would legalize human cloning, “gene-edited designer babies” and “the creation of human-animal chimeras,” when Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.), who introduced the bill, requested unanimous consent to consider the legislation in the upper chamber last month.

Hyde-Smith also argued the bill would force religious and pro-life organizations to “facilitate procedures that violate their core beliefs.”

Duckworth, who also served as a witness during the hearing and is an IVF patient, responded to Hyde-Smith’s remarks in her testimony Wednesday, saying statements like Hyde-Smith’s are a “bad faith effort to confuse the public” about the bill. 

The legislation would establish a nationwide right for patients to receive IVF and allow doctors to provide the treatment per “widely accepted and evidence-based medical standards of care,” Duckworth said.