Senate Republicans Look Poised to Block Bill to Protect I.V.F. Treatment


Senate Republicans on Wednesday appeared ready to block a bill that would establish federal protections for in vitro fertilization and other fertility treatments in the wake of a ruling by the Alabama Supreme Court that frozen embryos should be considered children.

Senator Tammy Duckworth, Democrat of Illinois, planned to try to bring the bill up on Wednesday under a procedure that allows any one senator to object and stop it in its tracks, effectively daring Republicans to oppose the measure and highlighting divisions within the G.O.P. on how to handle the issue. The bill would establish a federal right to access to I.V.F. and fertility treatments.

Democrats orchestrated the action as they sought to highlight the hypocrisy of Republicans who have rushed to voice support for I.V.F. after the Alabama ruling, even though many of them have sponsored legislation that declares that life begins at the moment of fertilization. Such a bill could severely curtail or even outlaw aspects of the treatments.

“This is really to call out my Republican colleagues,” Ms. Duckworth said in an interview on Wednesday. “If this is urgent and you care deeply about this as you say you do — like you’ve been saying in the last 72-plus hours since the Alabama Supreme Court ruling — then don’t object. Let this bill pass.” She argued that the bill’s protections were all the more essential since the decision by Alabama’s Republican-majority court.

The legislation was the latest instance of Republicans trying to walk a political tightrope — made more perilous by the Alabama ruling — since the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade and made real many Americans’ fears of losing their access to reproductive health care. Democrats have vowed to pummel Republicans on the issue this election year, buoyed by polls that show that access to abortion and contraception is a major concern for voters that could drive them away from Republicans.

“Make no mistake about it: What happened in Alabama is a direct consequence — a direct consequence — of the hard-right MAGA Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade,” Senator Chuck Schumer, Democrat of New York and the majority leader, said on Tuesday. “And make no mistake about it: There will be other awful, restrictive decisions emanating from the Dobbs decision.”

At least three medical providers in Alabama have paused I.V.F. treatments since the ruling, which stemmed from cases brought by couples whose embryos were destroyed in 2020 when a hospital patient removed frozen embryos from tanks of liquid nitrogen and dropped them on the floor.

Ms. Duckworth previously tried to pass a similar bill with unanimous consent in 2022, but Senator Cindy Hyde-Smith, Republican of Mississippi, objected. Ms. Duckworth said before Wednesday’s action that she would seek a roll-call vote on the bill if Republicans scuttled it, and that Mr. Schumer was “very supportive” about scheduling one after Congress funds the government ahead of a pair of shutdown deadlines this week and next.

Some Republicans have said they would look at the bill, but most others argued that it should be up to state legislatures — not the federal government — to protect fertility treatments. They sought to cast the Alabama ruling as an outlier and said the Legislature there would surely act soon to protect I.V.F.

“The Dobbs decision said that abortion is not part of the Constitution and they sent the issue back to the states. And I think that’s where it belongs,” said Senator John Kennedy, Republican of Louisiana, referring to the Supreme Court decision that overturned Roe. “But I do support fertility technology.”

Senator Mike Rounds, Republican of South Dakota, said he wanted to see how states might address I.V.F. protections before considering federal legislation.

“As these individual states look at all the different issues surrounding this particular issue in particular, you’re going to get a number of different ideas about how to approach it,” Mr. Rounds said on Tuesday. “I personally do think that I.V.F. needs to be a part of our future discussions.”

Senator Mike Braun, Republican of Indiana, said he believed the Alabama Legislature would pass protections for I.V.F., making a federal law unnecessary.

“Whether it needs federal legislation, I’m going to be open to considering whatever it might be, but I mean, it was done in such an isolated way,” Mr. Braun said of the Alabama ruling. He added that each state would “wrestle” with whether frozen embryos should be considered children.

In 2021, along with 15 other Republicans, Mr. Kennedy, Mr. Rounds and Mr. Braun cosponsored the Life at Conception Act, which would recognize a fertilized egg as a person entitled to equal protections under the 14th Amendment. If enacted, it could severely restrict I.V.F. treatments, which typically involve the creation of several embryos, only one of which is implanted while the others are frozen to allow for subsequent attempts at a successful implantation.

The same bill won 166 Republican cosponsors in the House — including Representative Mike Johnson of Louisiana, the current speaker, who on Friday issued a statement in support of I.V.F.

The measure was reintroduced in the House in January 2023, but some Republicans who previously sponsored it — including some who face tough re-election races in districts won by President Biden in 2020 — have refrained from signing on again. It has not been reintroduced in the Senate.

Anti-abortion activists heralded the Alabama decision as a step toward the broader acceptance of fetal personhood, even as Republicans sought to distance themselves from the implication that fertility treatments could be jeopardized.

“It’s been incredible to watch Republicans now scramble over the weekend to suddenly support I.V.F. while many of these same Republicans are literally, right now, cosponsors of legislation that would enshrine fetal personhood,” Senator Patty Murray, Democrat of Washington, said on Tuesday. “You cannot support I.V.F. and support fetal personhood laws. They are fundamentally incompatible. You are not fooling anyone.”

In the House, Representative Nancy Mace, Republican of South Carolina, circulated a nonbinding resolution on Tuesday declaring support for access to I.V.F. and other fertility treatments. But the measure is purely symbolic, and comes with protections for neither.

Democrats said they would not be shy about reminding voters about Republicans’ records on the issue, which they believe will turn moderate and independent voters away from the G.O.P.

“Women aren’t just going to forget who is responsible for this — who ripped away their dreams of building their families,” Ms. Murray said. “This is what happens when Republican politicians take away women’s power over their own bodies.”

Annie Karni contributed reporting.

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