Skip to content Skip to footer

Senate Democrats Push for Expedited Vote to Protect IVF Access

With Schumer’s support, they aim to use a process called unanimous consent to forgo extended debate and a recorded vote.

Sen. Tammy Duckworth speaks during Senate Democrats' news conference in the Capitol on February 27, 2024, to discuss the Alabama Supreme Court ruling on in vitro fertilization (IVF).

Senate Democrats on Tuesday highlighted their plan to protect IVF, warning their Republican colleagues they will need to decide by Wednesday whether to block a bill that would preserve access to assisted reproductive technologies.

“I warned that red states would come for IVF — and now they have,” Sen. Tammy Duckworth, an Illinois Democrat, told reporters of a recent Alabama Supreme Court ruling that found frozen embryos outside the womb are considered children. Duckworth is the lead sponsor of bicameral legislation called the Access to Family Building Act, which would protect access to in vitro fertilization, or IVF.

“But they aren’t just going to stop in Alabama. Mark my words: If we don’t act now it will only get worse,” she added.

The Democratic-controlled Senate returned to Washington this week as the Alabama ruling all but ended access in the state and its impact continued to reverberate around the country. The case has highlighted how the anti-abortion movement’s pursuit of fetal personhood — or establishing that fetuses have the same rights as people — could decimate access to assisted reproductive technology.

The abortion rights movement has warned since the Supreme Court’s June 2022 ruling in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization that establishing fetal personhood in order to prohibit abortion will have cascading and devastating impacts on other areas of reproductive health, such as access to contraception and assisted reproductive technologies. IVF is used to create embryos outside of the body that are later implanted in the uterus. Establishing fetal personhood therefore raises legal questions about frozen embryos that remain unused, or whether embryos can be created at all.

Some Republicans are assuring voters they support access to IVF despite past support for fetal personhood bills that would have the practical effect of restricting access; many Democrats are pointing out the dichotomy given that there is an active, Republican-backed fetal personhood bill in the U.S. House with 125 co-sponsors.

“It’s been incredible to watch Republicans now scramble over the weekend to suddenly support IVF — well, many of these same Republicans are literally right now co-sponsors of legislation that would enshrine fetal personhood, the very concept that caused all of the chaos in Alabama,” said Democratic Sen. Patty Murray of Washington, an original co-sponsor of Duckworth’s Access to Family Building Act.

After the Alabama high court’s ruling on February 16, the University of Alabama at Birmingham, or UAB, which is part of the state’s largest health care system, paused its IVF program. At least two other independent clinics in the state followed suit. Some medical transport companies are unwilling to move patients’ frozen embryos out of state due to potential legal risk. A bipartisan group of Alabama lawmakers is attempting to write legislation that would protect IVF from the ruling.

The response from Republican presidential candidates was unspecific, with Nikki Haley saying she considers IVF embryos babies and Donald Trump saying he supports IVF; both oppose abortion and neither offered legislative approaches to protect the procedure. Democratic President Joe Biden, whose administration supports abortion rights, called the Alabama ruling “outrageous.” His health secretary, Xavier Becerra, is traveling to Alabama on Tuesday to meet with affected individuals.

In Congress, meanwhile, Democrats’ bill that would protect IVF access nationally has received only a single Republican co-sponsor in the House and none in the Senate.

Duckworth and Murray, along with Sens. Tammy Baldwin of Illinois and Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, introduced the Access to Family Building Act in January. It picked up 12 more co-sponsors — all Democrats — this week. With the support of Democratic Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, they are aiming to expedite the legislation Wednesday by using a process called unanimous consent to forgo extended debate and a recorded vote. Any single senator can block this expedited process.

In the GOP-controlled House, it is unclear if there is a path forward for the Access to Family Building Act. Rep. Susan Wild of Pennsylvania introduced the bill, and over the past week, 32 of her Democratic colleagues signed on. Just one Republican, Rep. Anna Paulina Luna of Florida, did, and Duckworth said Tuesday that Luna has already asked to be removed as a co-sponsor. Luna’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

What does have significant Republican support in the House is the Life at Conception Act, a fetal personhood bill that would define a “human being” as being created from “the moment of fertilization, cloning, or other moment at which an individual member of the human species comes into being.” Nearly all experts, along with much of the anti-abortion movement, agree that without specific carveouts, personhood statutes would imperil IVF access by deeming frozen embryos human beings. The House bill does not have such a carveout. An earlier version of a companion Senate bill did, but it has not been reintroduced this Congress.

When The 19th reached out to the offices of all 125 Republican co-sponsors of the Life at Conception Act, only two responded.

One was GOP Speaker Mike Johnson of Louisiana, who has in many ways centered his political career on restricting abortion access. Johnson said in a statement provided by his office that he believes “the life of every single child has inestimable dignity and value. That is why I support IVF treatment, which has been a blessing for many moms and dads.” He lauded the bipartisan effort in the Alabama legislature to protect IVF treatment but did not address how the Life at Conception Act he has co-sponsored could impact access.

The second was Rep. Buddy Carter of Georgia, whose office shared a post on X in which Carter thanked fellow Rep. Michelle Steel of California for speaking out about how she does not believe there should be federal restrictions on IVF. Steel, who represents a swing district and built a family thanks to IVF, is also a co-sponsor of the Life at Conception Act. Her office was among the 123 that did not respond to The 19th’s queries.

Duckworth called this moment “nightmarish” for Americans worried about losing access to assisted reproductive technologies.

“It’s nowhere near enough to send out a vaguely worded tweet suggesting that you care about women’s rights despite having a voting record to the absolute contrary,” Duckworth said.

The relative silence from House Republicans about the impact their fetal personhood bill would have on IVF access, along with their failure to support the Access to Family Building Act, shows the extent to which the party has painted itself into a corner on issues related to reproductive rights.

GOP pollster Kellyanne Conway — who was a specialist in conservative women voters before becoming a top adviser to Trump during his 2016 campaign and presidency — shared during a December briefing with Capitol Hill Republicans that IVF is supported by 86 percent of voters, including 78 to 83 percent of those who consider themselves “pro-life” or evangelical, according a report in Politico.

A memo to Senate candidates last week from the National Republican Senatorial Committee, which works to elect GOP lawmakers to the upper chamber, cited Conway’s polling. It stated that a “staggering 85% of all respondents, including 86% of women, support increasing access to fertility-related procedures and services.” They encouraged Republican senators to “clearly state your support for IVF and fertility-related services,” oppose restrictions, and “campaign on increasing access.”

Murray said Wednesday will be an opening to show voters.

“If Republicans seriously support the right to build families through IVF, they can prove it tomorrow on the floor,” Murray said.

Join us in defending the truth before it’s too late

The future of independent journalism is uncertain, and the consequences of losing it are too grave to ignore. To ensure Truthout remains safe, strong, and free, we need to raise $33,000 in the next 2 days. Every dollar raised goes directly toward the costs of producing news you can trust.

Please give what you can — because by supporting us with a tax-deductible donation, you’re not just preserving a source of news, you’re helping to safeguard what’s left of our democracy.