GOP U.S. Sen. Lankford of Oklahoma blocks bill expanding IVF for vets, service members

lab tech uses equipment employed for in vitro fertilization
lab tech uses equipment employed for in vitro fertilization
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A lab tech uses equipment employed for in vitro fertilization in this undated photo. (Getty Images)

WASHINGTON — Washington state Democratic Sen. Patty Murray tried to pass a bill Tuesday that would expand access to in vitro fertilization for military service members and veterans, but Oklahoma Republican Sen. James Lankford raised an objection and prevented the legislation from moving forward.

“The recent chaos in Alabama caused by far-right ideology put a national spotlight on just how crucial IVF is to so many women and families who are desperately hoping and trying to have children,” Murray said.

Lankford cited procedural concerns with the bill, including that it hasn’t been debated and reported out by the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee during this Congress and that it didn’t have a price tag from the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office.

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The Alabama state Supreme Court’s ruling last month that frozen embryos are regarded as children under state laws inserted considerable uncertainty into IVF there.

State lawmakers have since approved a bill to provide protections for IVF doctors and clinics in the state, though there are still numerous unanswered questions.

The Alabama state Supreme Court’s actions led to a nationwide debate among Republicans about whether they should support IVF throughout the country.

“If Republicans really do now want to support IVF, if they really do want to help people trying to grow their family — why not start with our veterans and our service members?” Murray said.

“These are the men and women who fought to protect our families,” she added. “Why don’t we make sure they have the support they need to grow theirs?”

Lankford questions definition of infertility

Lankford rejected the idea that Republicans don’t support IVF.

“I understand it’s become vogue in this current season right now to be able to say Republicans are somehow opposed to life because they’re opposed to IVF,” Lankford said. “I just don’t find that.”

Lankford questioned definitions in the bill, including that the definition of infertility “includes inability to reproduce or safely carry a pregnancy to term.”

That was “very broad” and Lankford said he was trying to “figure out what that means.”

One U.S. senator can block a bill

Murray tried to pass the bill through unanimous consent, a process that allows any senator to object to approving it.

While unanimous consent is the fastest way to approve bills in the Senate, it’s also the easiest way to block them if any one senator doesn’t like the policy.

The unanimous consent process lets lawmakers avoid having to hold numerous procedural votes to advance a bill, which require the support of at least 60 lawmakers, followed by the simply-majority passage vote. That process can take weeks in the Senate.

Murray’s attempt to pass her IVF for veterans bill through the Senate came one day after the Department of Veterans Affairs announced it would expand access to the procedure for eligible unmarried veterans and those in same-sex relationships.

In order to qualify, veterans must be able to connect their difficulty having children or infertility to a military connected health issue. The new VA policy also allows the use of donor eggs, sperm and embryos.

Duckworth attempt on IVF also stymied

Lankford’s objection to Murray’s IVF for veterans bill happened less than two weeks after another Republican senator, Cindy Hyde-Smith of Mississippi, blocked Illinois Democratic Sen. Tammy Duckworth from passing a bill through unanimous consent to protect access to IVF nationwide.

Murray’s bill, titled Veteran Families Health Services Act, would allow all veterans to access IVF treatments as well as other fertility treatments at VA facilities.

The legislation would allow military members to freeze their eggs or sperm before shipping out to a combat zone or a hazardous duty assignment. It would broaden access to VA’s adoption services as well.

Resolve, the national infertility association, supports the bill, saying it would “expand DoD and VA health care to include comprehensive family-building assistance for servicemembers and veterans — allowing servicemembers to freeze their eggs prior to deployment, providing adoption assistance, and expanding access to IVF.”

Murray, speaking from the Senate floor Tuesday, said the bill was the type of “straightforward legislation” that lawmakers should approve through unanimous consent.

The bill, she said, “should not be controversial, especially if Republicans are serious, even in the slightest, about supporting IVF.”

But Murray noted that fetal personhood laws, backed by many conservative Republicans and anti-abortion groups, would throw IVF access into question.

“When Republicans support legislation that says a fertilized egg has the same rights and protections as a living, breathing human person, that is fundamentally incompatible with supporting IVF,” Murray said.

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