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Lawmakers defend VA's expansion of IVF services

Lawmakers defend VA's expansion of IVF services

BOSTON — Members of the state’s all-Democrat congressional delegation are defending the Biden administration’s decision to expand in-vitro fertilization services to unmarried and same-sex veterans.

The Department of Veterans Affairs has expanded access to in-vitro fertilization, saying that eligible unmarried veterans and veterans in same-sex marriages can now access IVF services at Veterans Affairs facilities. The move was praised by advocates of the procedure, who say it will allow more veterans to conceive children.

In a letter to VA Secretary Denis McDonough, U.S. Rep. Lori Trahan led a group of nearly 70 House Democrats who praised the move and urged the federal agency to take other steps to expand access to the procedure.

“While the VA already provided IVF treatment for those who were legally married and able to produce their own gametes within that marriage, this important expansion will ensure that more veterans have the ability to start or grow their families,” the lawmakers wrote.

Previously, the VA has only provided IVF care for married veterans who were able to use their own eggs or sperm during the process. The new changes will allow veterans to use donor eggs, sperm and embryos.

The federal agency, which doesn’t cover surrogacy costs, reiterated it provides up to $2,000 in adoption expenses for veterans with a disability connected to their military service that caused infertility.

Party lines

A group of House Republicans sent a letter to the VA last week criticizing the policy and describing IVF as “morally dubious” and arguing that it shouldn’t be subsidized by taxpayers.

“It is well known that IVF treatments result in a surplus of embryos after the best ones are tested and selected,” the lawmakers wrote. “These embryos are then frozen — at significant cost to the parents — abandoned, or cruelly discarded.

The GOP lawmakers, led by Rep. Matt Rosendale , R-Montana, argued the VA doesn’t have the legal authority to make changes to the IVF program and urged it to reconsider the move.

“The VA must focus on providing world-class health care and benefits to veterans, not trying to remake the nuclear family,” the lawmakers wrote.

But House Democrats blasted those claims in their letter to McDonough, arguing that it is part of a broader strategy by Republicans to restrict access to women’s reproductive services, including abortion.

“Coupled together, the IVF decision in Alabama and the letter Republicans recently sent to your agency prove that they have no desire to stop at the state level,” they wrote. “They intend to pass a federal abortion ban that strips women of the freedom to make their own health decisions, ban mifepristone, outlaw contraception, and sweep up IVF access.”

Trahan, a Westford Democrat, has become a fierce defender of the procedure, recently disclosing that her two daughters, Grace and Caroline, were conceived through IVF. She has pushing back against efforts to restrict the procedure in other states.

She blasted a recent Alabama Supreme Court ruling that frozen embryos are “children” which led several reproductive health care sites in the southern state to suspend their IVF services and sparked a nationwide debate over access to the procedure that is spilling into the presidential election.

To be sure, Alabama IVF providers have resumed services after Republican Gov. Kay Ivy signed a bill that seeks to shield IVF patients and providers from legal liability imposed on them by a controversial state Supreme Court ruling.

Election issue

But Democrats are seeking to make IVF an issue in the upcoming presidential election and fight for control of Congress. Polls show that a majority of Americans support access to the procedure.

In Congress, lawmakers are debating a proposal that would authorize the VA to permanently expand which veterans have access to IVF, and provide military members with the option to freeze their eggs or sperm before deployment to combat zones or hazardous duty assignments.

The Veteran Families Health Services Act, co-sponsored by Trahan and several other members of the state’s congressional delegation, would also expand adoption assistance for veterans and require the Department of Defense to conduct research on the long-term reproductive health needs of veterans.

Rep. Seth Moulton, a Marine veteran and co-sponsor of the bill who also signed the VA letter, called Republicans’ opposition to the changes “despicable” and accused them of politicizing veterans’ access to IVF, “which is deeply personal and in many cases is the best hope for a family to have a child.”

“When someone signs up to serve our country, their whole family signs up to serve by extension,” Moulton said. “In many cases, they may have delayed starting or growing their family because of that service.”