As Republicans Wrestle With IVF, the Biden Administration Expands Advantages

While Republican lawmakers try to walk a fine line on in vitro fertilization — expressing support for the popular procedure, even as some of their supporters argue life begins at conception — the federal government expanded fertility benefits for millions of workers this year, including up to $25,000 a year for IVF.

Many employers have embraced fertility benefits in recent years to attract and keep workers. In 2023, nearly half of companies with at least 500 employees covered IVF, according to benefits consultant Mercer’s annual employer survey.

The federal government — the largest employer in the country — now offers enhanced IVF coverage in about two dozen of its health plans, according to the Office of Personnel Management, which administers them.  

“OPM’s mission is to attract and retain the workforce of the future,” Viet Tran, OPM’s press secretary, said in an email. 

Eighty-six percent of Americans say IVF should be legal, according to a recent CBS News-YouGov poll. Yet the procedure has exploded into a new political liability for the GOP since Alabama’s highest court ruled in February that frozen embryos used in the procedure are children. It was inevitable that disagreements over IVF among abortion opponents would eventually break into the open, said Mary Ziegler, a historian at the University of California at Davis who specializes in the U.S. abortion debate.

“The antiabortion movement from the 1960s onward has been a fetal personhood movement,” Ziegler said.

Fertility problems affect about 10 percent of women and men, according to the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. IVF, a process in which an egg is fertilized in a laboratory and later implanted in the uterus, is among the most expensive fertility treatments, costing about $20,000 for one round. It can be pricey even with insurance coverage, but for some people it’s the only way to conceive. 

Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey (R) quickly signed a law protecting patients and providers who use IVF services after the state court’s ruling, which caused turmoil at fertility clinics. But the political repercussions are still coming into focus.

Democrats have sought to stake out their Republican opponents as extremists on the issue. 

In Washington, a pair of Democratic senators tried in February to pass legislation to override state laws and establish a statutory right to access IVF and other such technologies. Republicans blocked it.

In January, 126 House Republicans co-sponsored the Life at Conception Act, which would write into federal law that fertilized eggs are human beings. Rep. Michelle Steel (R-Calif.) withdrew her support for the bill in March, after the Alabama Supreme Court decision, explaining in a brief floor speech that she had begun her family using IVF and that the House bill “could create confusion about my support for the blessings of having children through IVF.”

And last week, Democrat Marilyn Lands won a special election for an Alabama House seat by about 25 percentage points after running on strong support for reproductive rights, including access to IVF. Lands had lost a race for the same seat by 6 points just two years ago. 

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