Democratic, Republican bills on IVF voted down in U.S. Senate

US Capitol Senate side public domain CNA 4 23 15 U.S. Capitol, Senate side. | Credit: Public domain

The U.S. Senate on Thursday voted down a bill that Democrats said was designed to protect access to in vitro fertilization (IVF) procedures nationwide, with the measure coming amid a continued national debate over the medical procedure that also spawned a competing pro-IVF bill from Republicans. 

The Right to IVF Act, introduced by Democratic Sen. Tammy Duckworth of Illinois, failed 48-47 on Thursday, needing 60 votes to pass. It would establish a right to receive fertility treatments, including IVF, and also the right to “make decisions and arrangements regarding the donation, testing, use, storage, or disposition of reproductive genetic material, such as oocytes, sperm, fertilized eggs, and embryos.”

The U.S. Catholic bishops had urged Catholics to contact their lawmakers and tell them not to pass the bill, warning among other things that the bill could create a new health insurance mandate to cover IVF. 

The Catholic Church opposes the use of IVF on the grounds that it separates the marriage act from procreation and establishes “the domination of technology” over human life.

Also at issue was Senate Democrats’ insistence that families who make use of IVF should be allowed to discard fertilized embryos — a necessary part of the IVF process and one of the key arguments against IVF from a Catholic perspective — without legal repercussions.

The use of IVF, which necessarily includes a selection process of the “best” embryos, has led to millions of rejected human embryos being discarded and millions more frozen and stored in a state of limbo.

All 49 Senate Republicans, meanwhile, on Wednesday signaled support for IVF — which remains popular among the public — but decried the Democratic-sponsored IVF bill as “fearmongering intended to mislead and confuse the American people.” 

As an alternative to the Democratic IVF bill, Republican Sens. Ted Cruz of Texas and Katie Britt of Alabama put forth another bill, which Cruz described as a “clear, straightforward, ironclad protection for IVF.” That bill would require that states not prohibit IVF services as a condition of receiving federal Medicaid funding.

Cruz attempted to bring the bill to a vote June 12 but Democrats blocked the measure, with Democratic Sen. Patty Murray arguing that Republican support for “fetal personhood” would undermine the legality of the discarding of fertilized embryos. 

The IVF vote comes a week after the U.S. Senate rejected the “Right to Contraception Act,” which would have created a federal right to contraception, with legal implications for religious freedom and protections for minors. 

The current debate over IVF erupted following a ruling by the Alabama Supreme Court in February that found that frozen human embryos are children under state law. Alabama lawmakers have since passed a bill that grants immunity to IVF providers in cases of death or injury to unborn babies during the IVF process.

The U.S. Catholic bishops expressed opposition to an earlier version of the Democratic Senate bill in February. 

“We can understand the profound desire that motivates some of these couples to go to great lengths to have children, and we support morally licit means of doing so,” the heads of four U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ committees wrote in a letter to lawmakers.

“The solution, however, can never be a medical process that involves the creation of countless preborn children and results in most of them being frozen or discarded and destroyed,” the bishops emphasized.

IVF, the bishops warned, is “a threat to the most vulnerable of human beings.” They further rebuked the IVF industry as one that is “built on millions of children who are created to be destroyed or abandoned.” 

Thursday’s Senate vote also comes one day after the Southern Baptist Convention, the largest Protestant denomination in the U.S., voted to approve a resolution opposing the use of IVF. 

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