February 28, 2024

Despite Claiming to Support IVF, Senate Republicans Block Duckworth Bill to Protect IVF Access Nationwide


[WASHINGTON, D.C.] – Despite many Senate Republicans recently claiming to support in-vitro fertilization (IVF) in the days since Alabama’s Supreme Court issued a ruling that severely restricted access to IVF in that state, Senate Republicans today blocked U.S. Senator Tammy Duckworth’s (D-IL) legislation that would protect access to IVF and other assisted reproductive technology (ART) nationwide. Leading a group of Senate Democrats in calling for the legislation’s passage, Duckworth urged her Republican colleagues to get out of the way of the Democrats’ efforts to protect access to IVF and let the Senate pass her Access to Family Building Actwhich would establish a statutory right to access IVF for all Americans who need it to start or grow a family—through unanimous consent. U.S. Senator Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-MS) objected. Video of Senator Duckworth’s remarks can be found on YouTube.

“After clamoring to get on the record in support of IVF after the Alabama Supreme Court ruling, Senate Republicans had a chance to prove that claimed support tonight by simply getting out of the way of our efforts to pass my bill that would protect IVF access nationwide—and they blocked it,” said Senator Duckworth. “For years, even before the Supreme Court’s disastrous Dobbs decision that overturned Roe v. Wade, I’ve sounded the alarm that Republicans’ decades-long campaign to rob women of their right to make decisions about their healthcare and bodies would eventually put IVF and other ART at risk. I’m heartbroken that I was right and disappointed that they blocked our efforts tonight, but I will never stop working to protect every American from being criminalized just for trying to start or grow their family through IVF.”

The group of Senate Democrats led by Senator Duckworth calling for the Access to Family Building Act’s passage included U.S. Senators Patty Murray (D-WA), Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Ron Wyden (D-OR), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) and Tim Kaine (D-VA). This is the second time Senate Republicans have blocked Duckworth-led legislation that would protect access to IVF nationwide. The Access to Family Building Act that Senator Duckworth sought to pass through unanimous consent today builds on previous legislation she introduced in 2022. That year, Duckworth went to the Senate floor and pleaded with her Republican colleagues to help pass the legislation through unanimous consent. Republicans objected. The Access to Family Building Act is endorsed by the American Society for Reproductive Medicine (ASRM) and RESOLVE: The National Infertility Association.

“This isn’t some surprise—the Alabama Supreme Court decision is Republican ideology in action,” said Senator Murray. “Women have had their dreams shattered because Republicans believe a frozen embryo kept in storage at an IVF clinic is the same, and should have the exact same rights, as a living, breathing, human person. Instead of empty words, Democrats want to see action—that is why we just tried to pass the Access to Family Building Act. It doesn’t get more straightforward than that! And yet, Republicans still blocked this bill—and showed their true colors when it comes to IVF.”

“Having a child through IVF is a wonderful thing, not a crime that should be punished. Our anti-choice Republican colleagues know this, and yet they have once again refused to do the right thing for American families by supporting protections for accessing IVF,” said Senator Cortez Masto. “Their hypocrisy is on full display, and America is watching.”

“Remember that for all their talk about supporting IVF, when it came down to it, Republicans blocked IVF protections that would give families a chance to have a baby. For Donald Trump and Republicans, this has always been about conservative politicians controlling women’s bodies,” said Senator Warren. “I’ll keep fighting alongside President Biden and Democrats until reproductive freedom is protected across the country.”

“At every opportunity, Republicans have moved mountains in order to restrict the constitutional rights and freedoms of women, making it impossible for them to live their lives free from government intrusion,” said Senator Wyden. “Today was no exception. Senate Republicans have once again denied protections for a generation of women hoping to become mothers.”

“What has become devastatingly and tragically clear is that the Republican Party's animosity towards women's health and women's rights doesn't stop at abortion,” said Senator Blumenthal. “This measure very simply guarantees the right for women and families everywhere -- in Alabama and Connecticut, in every state in this country -- to access the fertility care they need to bring children into the world.”

“The Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade has opened the floodgates for draconian restrictions on reproductive freedom,” said Senator Kaine. “Americans deserve the freedom to decide whether, when, and how to start or build their families—without interference by the government. This legislation would help us codify that right by safeguarding access to IVF, and unfortunately, its passage is more important than ever.”

A copy of the bill text can be found using this link..

Last year, Duckworth also joined Murray in reintroducing the Reproductive Healthcare Accessibility Act, legislation to help people with disabilities—who face discrimination and extra barriers when seeking care—receive better access to reproductive healthcare and the informed care they need to control their reproductive lives. Additionally, Duckworth and U.S. Representative Gerald Connolly (D-VA-11) urged the Office of Personnel Management to require Federal Employees Health Benefit (FEHB) Programs to cover IVF. This resulted in the first nationally available healthcare plan to offer IVF coverage for federal employees insured by the FEHB program.

Duckworth was the first Senator to give birth while serving in office and had both of her children with the help of IVF. In 2018 she advocated for the Senate to change its rules so she could bring her infant onto the Senate floor. She has made protecting and expanding access to essential reproductive healthcare a top priority. She joined her colleagues to applaud the Biden Administration’s landmark decision to allow the Veterans Health Administration (VHA) to provide abortion care to Veterans and their eligible dependents to protect the health and life of the person and in cases of rape or incest.

Full remarks as prepared by Senator Duckworth can be found below:

I’ve been called a lot of names in my life: “Tammy.” "Lieutenant Colonel.” “Senator.” And a couple others I shouldn’t mention in polite company.

“Mommy,” though, is without a doubt my favorite.

It’s the one my five-year-old uses when she runs into the house after dance class and pulls on my sleeve, eager to show me what she learned during her lesson.

It’s the one my nine-year-old says when she announces her latest life plan:

When she was little, she wanted to grow up to be a garbage collector… Now, she’s leaning toward being an Army cyber warrior.

My girls are my everything.

But they likely would’ve never even been born if I hadn’t had access to the basic reproductive rights that Americans—up until recently—had been depending on for nearly half-a-century.

Because after a decade struggling with infertility after serving in Iraq, I was only able to get pregnant through the miracle of IVF.

IVF is the reason I get to experience the chaos and beauty… the stress and joy… that is motherhood.

IVF is the reason that my husband and I aren’t just “Tammy and Bryan.” We’re “Mommm and Daaaad.”

IVF made our family. It made my heart whole. It made my life full.

But for countless women in Alabama, that desperately-sought-after dream of becoming a mom just became so much harder.

Last week, that state’s Supreme Court ruled that frozen embryos created through IVF should be considered children under state law…

A ruling that paints women like me and our doctors as criminals... 

And one that throws IVF access into chaos as countless women and doctors try to figure out whether they might be criminalized for simply trying to create a family. 

If you’re thinking that this makes no sense, you’re right.

You’re not misunderstanding anything. You’re not missing something.

It’s the nightmarish blend of hypocrisy and misogyny that you think it is:

The very people who claim to be “defending family values” are the ones trying to enact dystopian policies that would prevent Americans from starting their own families.

This is no longer a hypothetical worst-case scenario.

IVF providers around the state have already paused treatments out of fear that their doctors and patients could be punished.

Organizations that transport embryos to and from medical facilities in Alabama have already announced that they’ll stop doing so, meaning that would-be-parents there won’t even be able to start their families in any other state either.

And now that the first domino has fallen, it seems like it could only be a matter of time before more hospitals and more organizations make the same call…

Before more state courts issue similar rulings…

Before more extremist politicians succeed in enacting even-more-draconian laws nationwide.

Think about that.

Think about what’s at stake if state courts can simply strip away access to IVF.

Think about how many would-be moms might never be able to hear their child’s first little gurgle of a laugh.

Think about how many hopeful dads might never be able to play tooth fairy when his would-be daughter loses her first tooth.

You know, I lived in Alabama for a bit when I was in the Army, stationed at what’s now called Fort Novosel.

And I didn’t know it at the time, but infertility would become one of the most heartbreaking struggles of my life… my miscarriage more painful than any wound I ever earned on the battlefield.

I also almost lost the opportunity to even try IVF, because a doctor at a well-known Catholic hospital told me I was simply too old for the treatment… that I should just “go home and enjoy my husband” instead, and if it were meant to be, I’d get pregnant.

It was pure luck that I found out that the doctor was lying to me:

That she wasn’t basing her advice on medicine science, but rather on her personal religious belief, nearly costing me my chance to have my two little girls.

So it’s a little personal when a majority-male state Supreme Court suggests that people like me who became parents with the help of modern medicine should be in jail cells not nurseries.

And I know I’m not the only one who struggles to understand how elected representatives who back these kinds of policies can call themselves members of the so-called “party of life.”

No. Rulings like this one—and the bills with the same intent that are being pushed forward in state legislatures around the country—aren’t about being pro-life.

They’re about catering to an extremist base by exerting even more control over women’s bodies… inserting politicians into some of the most intimate, personal decisions anyone could ever make.

Look, back when I was going through IVF, three of my five fertilized eggs were deemed non-viable.

If a version of this ruling had been in place then, I might’ve been forced to implant each of those three non-viable embryos… I might’ve been forced to suffer through three more miscarriages… or else risk me or my doctor being convicted of manslaughter for discarding them.

That’s the kind of extremism we’re talking about here.

That’s the level of cruelty we’re facing.

That’s the kind of future we’re fighting to prevent—where frozen embryos have more rights than the women who’d carry them.

Let’s be clear about what led to this moment.

The overturning of Roe is what made last week’s ruling even possible—as it stripped women of a Constitutional right, transferring the power to decide whether or when to start families from us to politicians in state houses across the country.

Donald Trump is the one who brags about taking down Roe v. Wade. Donald Trump is the one who acts as if that’s something to be proud of.

So while it may now be convenient for him to claim he had nothing to do with what happened in Alabama, we know the truth:

IVF is at risk because of him.

He is to blame—him and every other GOP official who shamelessly kisses his ring, proving with every word they say that they care more about protecting his poll numbers than protecting Americans’ freedoms.

After Roe v. Wade was overturned—actually, even before then, when the Senate was deciding whether to confirm Brett Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court—I warned that red states would come for IVF.

Now they have.

But they aren’t going to stop in Alabama. 

Mark my words: If we don’t act now, it will only get worse.

There are a lot of nuanced, tough calls we must make as Senators.

This isn’t one of them.

We know what’s right, even if extremist courts would like to rob millions of us of our rights.

We shouldn’t need to wait until women and doctors are thrown in jail before we act to protect them.

That’s why today, I’m begging my colleagues to help me pass my Access to Family Building Act…

A bill that would ensure that every American’s right to become a parent via treatments like IVF is fully protected, regardless of what state they live in…

Helping guarantee that no hopeful parent or doctor in this country can be held criminally liable for starting or growing a family through IVF.

The reality is, one in four married women have difficulty getting pregnant or carrying a pregnancy to term:

A number that doesn’t even include partnerless Americans or other families also trying to have kids.

That’s one in four in red states and blue states.

In big cities and rural towns.

In the wealthiest neighborhoods and the poorest of zip codes.

Because infertility doesn’t discriminate between party lines. It doesn’t recognize state borders.

No one should feel that someone else’s religious beliefs or partisan slants could rob them of their chance to get pregnant.

And no doctor should have to risk a criminal record just to provide women basic healthcare.

So to my Republican colleagues, please:

Think about how many that 1 in 4 equates to in your state…

Women willing to go through expensive, painful medical treatments just for a chance to experience the smallest, most banal moments of parenthood…

Just to have a newborn to swaddle… a baby whose diaper to change… a toddler whose shoes to tie.

If you believe that they have the right to be called “mom” without also being called a criminal, then all you have to do to prove it is let us pass this should-be-obvious legislation.

Because in this nightmarish moment, it’s nowhere near enough to send out a vaguely worded tweet claiming you care about women’s rights, despite a voting record to the contrary.

No. This is where the rubber meets the road.

If you truly care about the sanctity of families… if you are genuinely, actually, honestly interested in protecting IVF… then you need to show it by not blocking this bill today.

It’s that simple.

Thank you.