GOP blocks IVF bill as Senate Dems plan to keep hammering reproductive rights

GOP blocks IVF bill as Senate Dems plan to keep hammering reproductive rights

Senate Republicans on Thursday blocked a bill to protect access to in vitro fertilization, the latest in a series of votes Democrats are holding to box in the GOP ahead of the election.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and half a dozen Senate Democrats said it won’t be the end of the story, vowing additional votes in the reproductive rights space ahead of a November election where Democrats see the issue as a key wedge against Donald Trump and other Republicans.

“Stay tuned. There are more coming,” Schumer said in a press conference after the vote.

Echoing last week’s showdown on contraception, only a couple of Republicans — Sens. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) and Susan Collins (R-Maine) — broke with the GOP to vote with Democrats. But that was still short of the necessary 60 votes to advance the legislation.

Most Republicans said they opposed Democrats’ legislation either because it threatened religious liberty and states rights or because they felt it was unnecessary.

And several GOP senators instead offered a separate bill, which Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) tried to bring up under unanimous consent on Wednesday. Democrats blocked that effort, saying it amounted to mostly symbolic protections.

It further signals that Republicans know they can’t cede the narrative to Democrats on IVF, as President Joe Biden’s party seeks to portray the GOP as wanting to limit reproductive rights at every turn. Democratic campaigns and progressive groups have already teed up ads to hit vulnerable GOP lawmakers on their votes.

The same pattern will likely play out several more times in the coming months as Democratic leaders work to highlight what they see as Republicans’ greatest weakness in the leadup to the November election.

“I’m not rooting for failed votes, but sometimes you need to take votes that don’t pass in order to eventually get something done,” Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) told POLITICO. “That was our strategy on guns.”

Democrats this week insisted these are not “show votes,” but rather attempts to educate voters on where members stand on key issues as the parties fight for control of Congress. They did not involve GOP senators in drafting their IVF bill, and Collins, a long-time supporter of reproductive rights protections who supported the legislation, said she received no outreach from Democrats ahead of the floor vote.

“America, this is not a show vote — it is a ‘show us who you are’ vote,” Schumer said on the floor Thursday.

The full GOP conference released a statement on Wednesday stating they “strongly support continued nationwide access to IVF.” Yet there are real divisions among conservatives about the practice.

On Wednesday, the nation’s biggest Protestant denomination, the Southern Baptist Convention, passed a resolution opposing IVF because it facilitates “the destruction of embryonic human life.” The resolution called on the nearly 13 million Southern Baptists across 45,000 churches to “only utilize reproductive technologies” that affirm “the unconditional value and right to life of every human being,” or consider adoption as an alternative.

Some anti-abortion activists are also lobbying for restrictions on IVF and attacking members of both parties who vote to protect it. They’ve even run ads in Alabama accusing Republicans of giving doctors a “license to kill” after they voted to give IVF clinic staff civil and criminal immunity.

Conservatives have expressed disappointment in their party for rushing to support IVF after an Alabama Supreme Court ruling earlier this year granted legal personhood to frozen embryos — prompting several providers in the state to suspend services. Influential groups, including the Heritage Foundation, Live Action and Family Research Council, say lawmakers are missing an opportunity to impose restrictions on IVF, but expressed confidence that they can chip away at the issue over time, as they did with abortion access.

Many elected Republicans, meanwhile, have been wary of the issue or eager to declare their support, as IVF is politically popular and widely used.

Cruz, one of several Southern Baptists in Congress, attempted to call up a bill Wednesday that he and Sen. Katie Britt (R-Ala.) drafted as an alternative. Their legislation would strip federal Medicaid funding from states that ban IVF services but allow restrictions on how embryos are stored, implanted and disposed. When Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) objected, scuttling the vote, Cruz accused Democrats of preferring to “play politics” rather than pass meaningful protections.

“It is ridiculous to claim this bill protects IVF when it does nothing of the sort,” Murray retorted. “Under this bill, there are a million ways Republican-led states can enact burdensome and unnecessary requirements and create the kind of legal uncertainty to force clinics to close their doors.”

Sen. Tammy Duckworth, the lead sponsor of the bill who herself had two children through IVF, said her party is “going to keep working on protecting IVF because American families need it.”

House Democrats are attempting to force their own vote on IVF, using a mechanism called a discharge petition that can sidestep GOP leadership’s control of the floor if it gets 218 signatures. But it would need some GOP support to move forward in the narrowly divided chamber.

So far, four Republicans running for reelection in districts that voted for Biden in 2020 have signed onto the effort: Reps. Marc Molinaro (R-N.Y.), Mike Lawler (R-N.Y.), Brian Fitzpatrick (R-Pa.) and Anthony D’Esposito (R-N.Y.).

In a press conference Thursday morning, House Democrats said Republicans who claim to support IVF need to “put their money where their mouth is.”

“It’s time for Americans to see where all members of the House of Representatives stand,” said Rep. Susan Wild (D-Pa.), the lead sponsor of the House bill. “Americans need action, not empty promises.”

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