GOP Sens Scramble To Find Reason To Oppose IVF Bill, Warning Of An ‘Anti-Religious Agenda’

UNITED STATES - JANUARY 24: Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, attends a news conference in the U.S. Capitol on border security legislation on Wednesday, January 24, 2024. (Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images)
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Senate Democrats are continuing their efforts to put their colleagues across the aisle on record for their unwillingness to support reproductive rights in the wake of the Supreme Court’s Dobbs ruling, which opened the door to a flood of state-level abortion bans. Last week, Democrats brought forward a bill to protect access to contraception. This week it will be a bill to protect access to in vitro fertilization.

In response, Republicans have clung to two legislative gambits of their own that they say are just as good. Sen. Rick Scott (R-FL) offered a simple resolution demonstrating the Senate’s “support for Americans who are starting and growing families through in vitro fertilization.” Sens. Ted Cruz (R-TX) and Katie Britt (R-AL) put forward a bill that would make states ineligible to receive Medicaid funding if they ban IVF. 

On Wednesday afternoon, Cruz asked for unanimous consent to pass that bill.

Ahead of the vote, Cruz, somewhat comically, tried to frame it as an effort to get Democrats on the record on IVF, seemingly one upping them by getting his bill on the floor quicker.

“Understand, if the remarks end with the words ‘I object’ than Senate Democrats will have made the cynical political decision that Democrats don’t want IVF protected in federal law … because instead they want to spend millions of dollars running campaign ads suggesting the big bad Republicans want to take away IVF,” Cruz said on the Senate floor.

Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) blocked the Republican bill, calling it a “PR tool.”

“[This is] just another way for Republicans to pretend they are not the extremists that they keep proving they are,” Murray said on the Senate floor as she objected to unanimous consent. 

“The bill allows for states to push for regulations that could severely reduce the standard of care for IVF treatment, such as restrictions on how many embryos are created and what individuals can do with these embryos — decisions that should only be made between patients and their doctors, based on science and clinical guidelines,” she added of the Cruz-Britt bill.

The Senate is expected to take up a procedural vote on Democrats’ Right to IVF Act, a bill that would protect and expand nationwide access to fertility treatment, including in vitro fertilization, on Thursday. Democrats will need 60 votes to overcome the filibuster and proceed to a vote. But just like they did in last week’s contraception vote, Senate Republicans are expected to block the consideration of the bill.

Talking points scramble

Ahead of Thursday’s vote, they tried to walk a fine line — claiming they support access to IVF while squirming to find ways to explain away why they will not be supporting the Democrats’ bill.

“I think it serves no useful purpose other than partisan politics,” Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) told reporters Wednesday morning when asked about the IVF bill.

“IVF is legal everywhere,” Sen. Rick Scott (R-FL) told reporters, dismissing a question about what parts of the Democrat bill he does not support.

During an election year, where reproductive rights have taken center stage as a mobilizing issue among so many voters, following the playbook of getting Senate Republicans on the record refusing to support issues related to reproductive rights is a purposeful choice on Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and the Democratic leaderships part.

But it does much more than just that. It also opens up a window into the way in which support for the concept of fetal personhood, post Dobbs, has caught Republicans between a rock and a hard place, as evidenced by the party’s shambolic response to an Alabama state Supreme Court ruling earlier this year that shut down IVF treatment in the state.

Some Republican senators TPM spoke with Wednesday leaned hard on the why protect something that is not endangered? argument that Scott advanced. 

That argument of course is downplaying how quickly, just like when Roe v. Wade was overturned, Americans can lose their right to access IVF. The Alabama ruling was an example: it found that stored embryos can be afforded the same legal protections as children under the Wrongful Death of Minor Act of 1872, the first decision of its kind but, potentially, not the last. 

The outcry in response to that state Supreme Court decision led to state legislators passing a law that provided civil and criminal immunity to IVF providers. But during the two weeks between the court’s decision to the passage of the legislation, many in the state were unable to access IVF treatment.

“It’s like an anti-religious agenda at work” 

When pressed on why he would not support Democrats’ IVF bill, Scott claimed to TPM that Democrats were “taking away religious freedoms,” an argument advanced earlier this year by the Heritage Foundation and other conservative groups, which expressed concern that Democrats’ IVF bill would force religious institutions to provide IVF coverage for employees even if it goes against their beliefs.

Sen. Josh Hawley (R-MO) pushed that argument, too, saying he supports IVF but not the Democrats’ bill.

“The Democrat bill is not about IVF, it’s about repealing the Religious Freedom Restoration Act,” Hawley claimed to TPM. “It seems to me like there’s some other agenda,” he intoned, “It’s like an anti-religious agenda at work.” 

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) also echoed that sentiment when asked about the bill.

“The [Democrat] bill very deliberately attacks religious liberty and forces people and organizations that have their own religious objections to IVF to participate,” Cruz told TPM. “That’s not right. What we should do is protect IVF for anyone who wants it, but we shouldn’t force it on people who have religious objections to it.”

The issue is a fraught one for Republicans, who are caught between appearing to support IVF — as most Americans do — and opposition to the procedure from their Christian conservative base. As if to underscore the dynamic, the Southern Baptist Convention, a powerful evangelical organization, voted to condemn IVF on Wednesday.

“This isn’t about religion, it’s about control,” Colin Seeberger, senior advisor at The Center for American Progress Action, told TPM in a statement, addressing Republican refusal to support Democrats’ bill. “Senate Republicans want to weaponize religion to give a license for states to strip people of the freedom to grow their families as they so desire.”

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Notable Replies

  1. I don’t have a pet.

  2. Here you go.

  3. JFC, if you don’t believe in IVF then don’t use IVF. Somehow these Evangelicals have lost the thread that they can worship their religious doctrine as faithfully as they want. But the rest of us that don’t share their religious views have just as much right to follow our own religion, or no religion at all.

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