Senate Republicans block legislation to codify IVF access

June 13, 2024

Legislation to establish a national right to in vitro fertilization (IVF) was blocked by Senate Republicans on Thursday, amid a push by Democrats to put the GOP on defense over reproductive rights ahead of the November elections. 

The bill needed 60 votes in order to move forward, meaning nine Republicans would have needed to break ranks and vote with Democrats. The final vote was 48-47, with only two Republicans defecting: Sens. Susan Collins (Maine) and Lisa Murkowski (Alaska).

The Right to IVF Act, sponsored by Sens. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.), Patty Murray (D-Wash.) and Cory Booker (D-N.J.), is a package of four bills that would both establish a nationwide right to IVF and other assisted reproductive technology, as well as lower the costs of IVF treatment to make it more accessible.  

The vote Thursday is the latest in a series set up by Senate Democratic leadership about codifying reproductive rights. 

Democrats want to drive a wedge between Republicans and put them on the record opposing those efforts, especially as the GOP struggles with how to message its stance on reproductive rights in the wake of the Supreme Court’s decision overturning Roe v. Wade.  

“Protecting IVF should be the easiest ‘yes’ vote the Senate has taken all year. Republicans cannot say they are profamily and then vote against protecting IVF,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said on the floor Thursday. 

Thursday’s vote comes a week after Republicans blocked a similar bill from Democrats that would have guaranteed the right to contraception. 

Republicans criticized the vote as an election year stunt, expressing concerns about unfunded mandates and the impact on religious freedom.

GOP senators Wednesday tried to bring up their own alternative IVF bill from Sens. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and Katie Britt (R-Ala.).  

The effort to pass it unanimously was blocked by Murray. 

The bill “explicitly allows states to enact restrictions and burdensome requirements that would force IVF clinics to close their doors,” Murray told reporters Wednesday. “That bill is nothing but a PR stunt, providing cover for Republicans to keep somehow pretending they’re not going to control women’s bodies.” 

The legislation would bar states from receiving Medicaid funding if they implement a ban on IVF. Cruz and Britt also said the legislation would ensure IVF is fully protected by federal law, though it does not create a right to IVF. 

The Republican bill would create an incentive for politicians not to pass legislation banning IVF, but it wouldn’t stop a court from restricting the procedure, like what happened in Alabama. It also would have still allowed restrictions on how embryos are stored, implanted and disposed of. 

On the Senate floor Wednesday, Britt said Democrats were only interested in fearmongering. 

“Sadly, they aren’t interested in a bill to actually protect IVF access and figuring out how we could get that to become law. That wouldn’t advance their true goal, which is about partisan electoral politics,” Britt said. 

Following the vote, every Senate Republican signed a pledge saying they “strongly support” continued nationwide access to IVF, which surged to the forefront of election year politics when the Alabama Supreme Court in February ruled that embryos are children and thus protected when it comes to the state’s wrongful death statute. 

Since the court ruling in February, Republicans have loudly spoken up to say they fully support IVF. But they have also largely avoided the question at the heart of the issue: If they believe life begins at conception, how should clinics handle viable embryos that are not implanted?   

During IVF treatments, multiple eggs are often harvested, fertilized and then frozen to increase the chances of successful implementation and pregnancy. If an embryo is not viable, if genetic abnormalities are identified or if a patient does not wish to have any more children, common medical practice is to discard them.    

The vote Thursday also comes a day after the Southern Baptist Convention, the largest Protestant denomination in the country, voted to oppose IVF. The delegation criticized the destruction of embryos and called on Southern Baptists to “only utilize reproductive technologies consistent with that affirmation, especially in the number of embryos generated in the IVF process.”