Seeking to spotlight Republican resistance, Senate Democrats renew push for IVF rights

Senate Democrats are making a renewed push to show their support for ensuring nationwide access to in vitro fertilization

Credit: AP

Credit: AP

WASHINGTON (AP) — Senate Democrats are making a renewed push to show their support for ensuring nationwide access to in vitro fertilization, releasing legislation Monday that is part of an election-year effort to spotlight Republican resistance to protecting reproductive care.

Sen. Tammy Duckworth, an Illinois Democrat who has used fertility treatment to have her two children, introduced a bill called the Right to IVF ACT, which would also make it more accessible through insurance as well as for military members and veterans. Although a pair of Senate Republicans have advanced their own proposal that would discourage states from banning IVF treatment, neither bill is expected to gain the significant bipartisan support that would be necessary to pass Congress.

Instead, Democrats are trying this month to show how Republicans are mostly unwilling to support legislation creating federal protections for reproductive care. It's a similar strategy that Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, a New York Democrat, used in the run-up to the 2022 election after the Supreme Court overturned the nationwide right to abortion.

“This will be one of the most important issues in the presidential campaign, and make no mistake about it, Joe Biden is fully for women’s reproductive rights. Donald Trump has opposed them time and time again,” Schumer said at an event in his home state last week.

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.

Schumer also intends to force a procedural vote this week on a separate bill that would guarantee the right to contraception, but Republicans are expected to mostly oppose that measure as well. Still, the push puts Republicans on record with their views on an issue that is expected to be on the top of voters' minds when they vote this fall.

Trump, the presumptive Republican nominee, said in an interview last month that he was working on a policy to regulate access to contraceptives — then denied the comments just hours later on social media, saying he "has never and will never" advocate for restricting birth control and other contraceptives.

Since the Supreme Court tilted towards conservatives and overturned the nationwide right to abortion two years ago, Republicans have largely opposed telling states what to do, even if it means that reproductive care is restricted in some places. Congressional Republicans have almost all declared that they personally supported IVF, but have resisted legislation that would ensure nationwide access to the fertility treatment.

GOP lawmakers have also been careful not to interfere with abortion opponents' ability to advance state laws that grant an embryo or fetus the same rights as a person. Sens. Katie Britt of Alabama and Ted Cruz of Texas have advanced a proposal that would threaten to withhold federal Medicaid funding from any state that would enact an outright ban on IVF treatment.

When she introduced the bill last month, Britt said in a statement, “IVF is pro-family, and I’m proud to strongly support continued nationwide access to this pathway to parenthood for the millions of American couples facing infertility.”

Still, some hard-right Republicans have opposed expanding access to IVF. After the Department of Veterans Affairs announced in March that it would provide fertility services to veterans who are unmarried or in same-sex marriages, four Republicans in the deeply conservative House Freedom Caucus released a letter opposing the move and saying the treatment was “morally dubious and should not be subsidized by the American taxpayer.”

Schumer has said Democrats intend to “spend a significant amount of time talking about reproductive rights” this month. As part of that push, Duckworth, alongside fellow Democrats Sens. Patty Murray of Washington and Cory Booker of New Jersey, introduced the legislation that packages four previous bills on IVF together.

The bill would make it a right to use IVF and other reproductive technology, as well as make it more accessible by requiring employer-sponsored insurance plans and other public insurance plans to cover fertility treatments. Military members and veterans would also gain more access to fertility counseling and treatments.

“Struggling with infertility is painful enough — every American deserves the right to access the treatment and tools they need to build the family of their dreams without the fear of being prosecuted for murder or manslaughter," Duckworth said in a statement.

But the political dynamics around reproductive care left practically no chance of finding bipartisan agreement on legislation. Republicans raised concerns about the bill’s implications for other reproductive technology and Cruz, who is running for reelection in Texas, quickly criticized the Democratic proposal as “deliberately overbroad.”

“This is an issue of consensus,” he said. “The Democrats don’t want consensus. They want to play politics.”