Hyde-Smith blocks Senate vote on federal IVF protections

Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-Miss.) blocked passage Wednesday of a bill to protect access to in-vitro fertilization nationwide — the first federal clash in the roiling debate over fertility care that an Alabama court sparked earlier this month by granting legal personhood to frozen embryos.

“The bill before us today is a vast overreach that is full of poison pills that go way too far,” she said. “Far beyond ensuring legal access to IVF, the act explicitly waives the Religious Freedom Restoration Act and would subject religious and pro-life organizations to crippling lawsuits.”

In the wake of the scuttled vote, Democrats are more eager than ever to tie Republicans to the threat to IVF — part of their ongoing campaign to make the fallout of the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade a top issue in the presidential and congressional election.

“It’s a little personal when a majority male state Supreme Court suggests that people like me who became pregnant with the help of modern medicine should be in jail cells and not nurseries,” said bill author Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.), the mother of two daughters conceived through IVF.

Duckworth excoriated Republicans for blocking the legislation — accusing them of hypocrisy after so many voiced support for the treatments over the last week.

“[Hyde-Smith] said at one point the bill would allow for chimeras — human-animal hybrids — it does nothing of the sort,” Duckworth said. “All the bill says, is if you want to seek reproductive technology you can, if you want to provide it you can, and if you want to cover it as an insurance company you can.”

Democrats brought up the bill under unanimous consent — an expedited process that allows any senator to object. Leadership has not indicated whether they will bring the bill back to the floor.

Duckworth told POLITICO on Wednesday that she plans to ask for a traditional roll call vote that forces members to take a public stance, though she acknowledged it’s “not going to happen any time soon.”

“I don’t want to shut down the government. We’ve got border security to work on,” she said. “There is a lot in the way in terms of the Senate calendar.”

Whether they continue to push for passage of the bill, Democrats made it clear that they plan to keep hammering Republicans on the issue. The Democratic National Committee is putting up dozens of billboards in the battleground states of Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Michigan, Nevada, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin tying the IVF ruling to former President Donald Trump, and the abortion rights group Reproductive Freedom for All has launched TV ads calling the Alabama decision “part of the Republican plan to control our bodies and lives.”

“Republicans can do and say all they want to try and run away from the truth, but the American people are not buying it,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said Wednesday ahead of the vote. “They’re not buying it today. They won’t buy it tomorrow. They won’t buy it come November.”

Republican strategists insist they are not worried, arguing that voters won’t hold the entire GOP responsible for the actions of the Alabama court and that it’s not senators’ place to intervene

Dobbs talked about states rights — what is it you expect Congress to do?” pollster and former Trump administration adviser Kellyanne Conway told POLITICO. “People recognize that the lack of compromise, moderation and reasonableness is on the side of the professional, political left, and the Democrats.”

The GOP’s opposition on Wednesday was a repeat of 2022, when Duckworth attempted to call up the bill a few months after the fall of Roe v. Wade and Hyde-Smith objected without explanation and scuttled the vote.

Republicans signaled in the leadup to the vote that the recent suspension of IVF services in Alabama — and the swath of other states now considering their own restrictions — had not changed their minds. Some argued that fertility treatments are a state’s rights issue in which Congress should not meddle, while others claimed that Alabama lawmakers would solve the problem and federal action is unnecessary.

“I think the issue is going to be fixed by the Alabama legislature,” said Sen. Mike Braun (R-Ind.). “I haven’t talked to any Republican that is not for IVF.”

Yet the Senate maneuvering highlights the bind Republicans face as they struggle to coalesce around a response to the Alabama ruling. Many GOP officials have expressed support for IVF but have largely avoided detailing how clinics should handle unimplanted, viable embryos.

In the meantime, influential anti-abortion groups are turning up the pressure. In a Wednesday statement, Susan B. Anthony Pro-life America condemned Duckworth’s bill, a nonbinding resolution by Rep. Nancy Mace (R-S.C.) expressing “strong support” for IVF, and the legislative fix Alabama lawmakers are debating that would shield IVF providers from lawsuits and allow services to resume in the state.

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