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Senate Republican blocks bill to protect IVF after Alabama ruling

In World
March 01, 2024

A Republican senator has blocked legislation that would protect in vitro fertilization and other assisted reproductive technologies in the wake of an Alabama Supreme Court ruling that frozen embryos are children under state law.

Prominent Republican officials and candidates have voiced support for IVF since the Alabama ruling, though Democrats have responded with skepticism, arguing that the GOP paved the way for the ruling with antiabortion policies. The effort by Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.) to pass the measure using unanimous consent, which allows the Senate to bypass a rule of procedure to expedite the process and is generally used for routine, noncontroversial measures, tested their stance.

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Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-Miss.) objected to Duckworth’s move for a vote, calling the bill a “vast overreach” that goes “way too far.” She said she is in favor of “total access” to IVF but downplayed the consequences of the Feb. 16 Alabama decision, saying it “did not ban IVF.”

On Wednesday, several Democrats said the block shows that some GOP senators’ public support for IVF is unsubstantiated.

At least three in vitro fertilization clinics in Alabama halted treatment following the court’s decision, which drew strong criticism from medical organizations. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists said it puts in vitro fertilization, which makes use of lab-fertilized embryos, in peril and “sets an incredibly concerning precedent for IVF access across the United States.”

IVF involves fertilizing eggs in a lab setting. Some of the resulting embryos may be frozen for later use, disposed of or used for research. If health-care providers find themselves at risk of civil or criminal charges for disposing of or damaging frozen embryos, they will not be willing to provide IVF, medical organizations said in response to the ruling.

The treatment may be recommended to patients struggling with conditions such as blocked fallopian tubes, severe male infertility, endometriosis or multiple miscarriages – or for whom artificial insemination did not work.

“For all their talk about supporting IVF, when it came down to it, Republicans blocked IVF protections,” Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) said in a statement that connected the Alabama ruling to Republican-backed bans and severe restrictions on abortion across the country. “This has always been about conservative politicians controlling women’s bodies,” she said.

Duckworth said in the Senate on Wednesday that she struggled with infertility for a decade after serving in Iraq, and that she was able to have children only as a result of IVF. “IVF made my heart whole and full, but for countless women in Alabama, that desperately sought-after dream of becoming a mom just became so much harder.”

White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre called access to IVF a “basic issue of reproductive freedom” in a statement on Wednesday. “Every woman in this country should have the freedom to make the decision to have a child,” she said.

About 1 in 5 women in the United States struggle with infertility, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data, and hundreds of thousands of American patients rely on IVF and similar treatments each year.

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Patrick Svitek contributed to this report.

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