Cruz seeks to blunt Democratic attacks with IVF bill

Sen. Ted Cruz (Texas), a staunchly anti-abortion Republican, introduced a bill this week he said is aimed at protecting in vitro fertilization (IVF), the latest sign the GOP feels vulnerable on reproductive rights and is trying to shore itself up against Democratic attacks.

Cruz is facing a reelection battle against well-funded Democratic Rep. Colin Allred (Texas), who quickly went on the attack, accusing Cruz of trying to cover up his record.

“Let’s be clear, Ted Cruz’s long-standing support for an extreme ban on abortion which is now threatening IVF is why we are here,” Allred said in a statement.

In the wake of the Alabama Supreme Court ruling that found embryos are children and thus protected when it comes to the state’s wrongful death statute, Republicans have publicly spoken up to say they fully support IVF.

The legislation from Cruz and Sen. Katie Britt (R-Ala.) would cut Medicaid funding to any state that bans IVF, while also ensuring that organizations or health care providers within states aren’t required to provide access.

In a Wall Street Journal op-ed announcing the bill, Cruz and Britt said its aim is to clear up the “confusion and misinformation” spread by the ruling, which has alarmed prospective parents who worry they may lose access to the procedure and the chance to have children.

IVF is “incredibly pro-family,” Cruz said in an interview with Bloomberg News on Monday. “Our bill is very simple and it’s very focused, and it’s designed to protect IVF.”

In the same interview, Britt said the bill was needed because of people who are trying to “fear monger” on the issue, and the goal of the legislation is to protect the ability of families to “bring life into this world.”

But Cruz did not answer a question about whether he thinks an IVF-created embryo is a human life.

Since the court ruling in February, Republicans have largely avoided the question at the heart of the issue: If they believe life begins at conception, how should clinics handle viable embryos that are not implanted?

During IVF treatments, multiple eggs are often harvested, fertilized and then frozen to increase the chances of successful implementation and pregnancy. If an embryo is not viable, if genetic abnormalities are identified or if a patient does not wish to have any more children, common medical practice is to discard them.

Texas Republican strategist Brendan Steinhauser said he thinks Cruz isn’t at risk of losing the GOP base, so doesn’t need to answer these hard questions. He said the senator can afford to spend some political capital to try to appeal to independents and swing voters — specifically the suburban, college-educated women who voted for former Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D) in 2018.

“Like 90 percent of Republicans are going to be with him and 90 percent of Democrats are going to be against him no matter what,” Steinhauser said. “This action suggests that he thinks that those [swing voters] are up for grabs, they matter, and that it’s worth wading into this debate to compete there.”

Reproductive health advocates have noted that future outright bans on IVF are unlikely.

Even Alabama never banned IVF after the ruling, though some clinics stopped providing the service due to the legal uncertainty.

States that legally consider embryos as people will likely impose regulations that prevent doctors from using current medically accepted methods. And the legislation from Cruz and Britt makes it clear that states will be allowed to impose “health and safety standards” on the practice of IVF.

Sawyer Hackett, a Democratic strategist and senior adviser to Lose Cruz, a super PAC dedicated to defeating the GOP senator, said the bill was carefully drafted to “head fake” support for IVF while not alienating the Republican base.

“Nobody believes this is anything more than a vulnerable Republican trying to save face on the issue of abortion rights,” Hackett said.

The bill creates an incentive for politicians not to pass legislation banning IVF, but it wouldn’t stop a court from restricting the procedure, like what happened in Alabama.

“Ironically, they created this because they see the vulnerability of [the] Alabama ruling, but in reality, their bill wouldn’t even protect access to IVF in Alabama,” Hackett said.

Democrats said if Cruz and Britt wanted to show support for IVF, they would support legislation from Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.) and others that would create federal IVF protections.

“Incentivizing far-right, anti-choice policymakers in deep red states to defund healthcare for low-income Americans isn’t going to stop them from also banning IVF,” Duckworth said in a statement. “Americans will not be fooled by this transparently counterproductive effort.”

Cruz told Bloomberg that Duckworth’s legislation was really a backdoor attempt to let the federal government block abortion bans.

Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-Miss.) blocked consideration of the bill in March.

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