March 07, 2024

Democrats invite women affected by abortion and IVF rulings to Biden’s State of the Union

The president’s party hopes to make a statement in support of reproductive rights in the wake of Alabama’s IVF ruling and the Supreme Court overturning Roe.

Source: NBC News


WASHINGTON — Democrats are putting reproductive rights front and center at the State of the Union on Thursday night, inviting guests affected by the Supreme Court’s reversal of federal abortion protections and Alabama’s controversial court ruling on in vitro fertilization last month.

Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., will bring with him the nation’s first IVF baby, Elizabeth Carr, who was born in 1981. “I was aware of her story after the Alabama decision,” Kaine told NBC News on Wednesday. “I saw an interview first where she said, ‘I feel like an endangered species.’ And that made me say let’s reach out and see if she’ll come to the State of Union. And I’m very, very glad she is.”

House Democratic Caucus Chair Pete Aguilar, D-Calif., has invited Jodi Hicks, the CEO of Planned Parenthood Affiliates of California, as his guest. Rep. Katherine Clark of Massachusetts, the Democratic whip, is bringing a Texas woman, Amanda Zurawski, who was denied urgently needed abortion care in Texas. Rep. Judy Chu of California will be joined by Dr. Caitlin Bernard, an OB-GYN who came under fire for speaking out about providing an abortion to a 10-year-old girl who had been raped.

And a trio of Senate Democratic women, Tina Smith of Minnesota, Tammy Duckworth of Illinois and President Pro Tempore Patty Murray of Washington, also invited women directly affected by the landscape of patchwork reproductive laws across the country.

Duckworth, who had both of her children via IVF, is bringing Dr. Amanda Adeleye, an OB-GYN, with her to the address. She and other Democrats chose their guests, she said, “because they’re on the front lines. They’re living in these challenges, and I think the most powerful testimony is the real-life testimony of women and providers all across this country.”

Asked what she hopes to hear from President Joe Biden, Tammi Kromenaker, a Minnesota-based women’s clinic director who is attending as Tina Smith’s guest, replied: “I want to hear the word ‘abortion.’ It’s not a dirty word. And I want to hear it said loud and proud.”

In an interview, Kromenaker shared the harsh reality of operating a clinic that provides abortions in a state surrounded by others that restrict the procedure. “Every week, our patients have to drive into our parking lot with protesters standing right there yelling and screaming at them,” she said. “We have a protester who stands on a ladder at the fence of the property next door and yells at them over the fence. It’s constant. It’s every week. It’s relentless.”

Kayla Smith, a guest of Murray’s, was pregnant with her second child in 2022 when, at 19 weeks, she learned that her baby had serious and fatal fetal anomalies. Because of Idaho’s restrictive abortion laws, Smith said, she was forced to take out a $16,000 loan and relocate her family from Idaho to Washington state to obtain care.

“The whole situation was a traumatic situation. Again, we were trying to have a baby and it kind of felt like we got struck by lightning,” Smith shared in a room flanked by the other women.

Smith said her physician had since moved out of Idaho, too, fearing that she would be criminally prosecuted for providing care to women. Idaho bans abortions in nearly all cases, and providing the procedure is a felony punishable by imprisonment.

“So, OK, pro-life, well, what about my life, too?” Smith said, holding back tears. “Because I also had severe preeclampsia with my [first-born] daughter, like with severity. I was admitted to the hospital. I had her at 33 weeks, so I was also at risk for that.”

Adeleye, who is based in Illinois and focuses on IVF and using research to close the gap on fertility-related disparities, said Alabama’s IVF ruling “is really frustrating, it’s disappointing, but it’s not surprising.”

“I’m fortunate to be at a point now where I’m trying to help people build families, but it doesn’t always lead to, you know, a bundle of joy nine months later. There’s so many ups and downs,” Adeleye said in an interview in the Capitol on Thursday. “And so what really bothered me was even after Dobbs, I had patients in my office crying, asking me about what’s going to happen to my embryos? And I just said I’m not a lawyer, I don’t know. I can’t predict the future.”

“And that is just something I never expected to have to say or think about,” she added. “Or to address fear in my patients. … Sadness, loss, excitement, all those things are expected. Fear? I wasn’t expecting that.”

At a news conference Thursday, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., flanked by the trio of senators and their guests and by advocates from Planned Parenthood, promised to “preserve the right to IVF” despite a failed effort by Duckworth to codify that right last week; it was blocked by Republicans on the Senate floor.

He highlighted the story of Kate Farley, a New York woman who is pregnant via IVF and will join him as one of his guests at the presidential address. “How dare these right-wing ideologues say that she shouldn’t be able to have children or millions of other mothers who have beautiful children through the miracle of IVF, through the advances of medical science?” Schumer said.

Adeleye stressed that she hopes Biden will champion “education and science and medicine.”

“Quite frankly, this whole Alabama nonsense wouldn’t have happened if people on the ground understood medical science in a way that was clear and accurate,” she said.

By:  Julie Tsirkin, Brennan Leach and Frank Thorp V