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Alabama Lawmakers Scramble to Protect IVF After State Supreme Court Ruling Classifies Embryos as Children

Last week, Alabama’s Supreme Court sparked controversy by ruling that embryos created through In Vitro Fertilization (IVF) are considered children with legal protections under the state’s Wrongful Death of a Minor Act. In response to the ruling, Alabama lawmakers have introduced House Bill 237 and Senate Bill 159 to safeguard IVF and fertility treatments.

According to CNN, the new legislation aims to guide and shield IVF providers from potential legal liability. House Bill 237, passed unanimously by the House Health Committee on February 28, sponsored by Republican Rep Terri Collins. Additionally, Senate Bill 159, introduced by Republican senator Tim Melson, would provide additional support in safeguarding fertility treatment.

Aside from acting retroactively, the bills could “provide civil and criminal immunity to persons providing goods and services related to in vitro fertilization except acts of omission that are intentional and not arising from or related to IVF services.”

During a meeting at the State House in Alabama where IVF patients and advocates gathered to voice their concerns, Melson addressed the crowd.

“Don’t worry, everybody in this building knows your issue, is concerned and wants to get you back on your normal, abnormal life of infertility,” Melson said.

Adding, “This isn’t about politics, this is about patients and we wanna make sure we take care of patients today. We wanna help you create life.”

Reports state that Bill 237 could pass the chamber floor as early as February 29, ideally passing as early as next Wednesday.

Alabama’s State Supreme Court ruled embryos should be considered children

Alabama’s State Supreme Court announced last week that personhood starts in fertilization, considering embryos formed through IVF children. The ruling, which has no precedent, adds to the already strict reproductive laws in the southern state.

This decision, based on an 1872 law, grants embryos the same legal protections as babies under the Wrongful Death of a Minor Act. Chief Justice Tom Parker added, “Even before birth, all human beings have the image of God, and their lives cannot be destroyed without effacing his glory.”

Couples and individuals counting on fertility treatments and frozen embryos have sparked a wider debate on how to move forward after the ruling. Several hospitals have halted procedures to protect themselves from legal liability, including the University of Alabama at Birmingham, Alabama Fertility, and the Center for Reproductive Medicine at Mobile Infirmary, as per ABC News.

In a statement, Hanna Echols, a spokesperson for UAB explained the reasoning behind pausing treatment.

“We are saddened that this will impact our patients’ attempt to have a baby through IVF, but we must evaluate the potential that our patients and our physicians could be prosecuted criminally or face punitive damages for following the standard of care for IVF treatments,” she said.

The ruling limits access to fertility services across the board

According to the New York Times, infertility and legal experts explained that the ruling has profound effects on families relying on fertility treatments to conceive. Barbara Collura, president and chief executive of Resolve, told the publication one in six families struggles with infertility.

“You’ve changed the status of a microscopic group of cells to now being a person or a child,” Collura said. “They didn’t say in vitro fertilization is illegal, and they didn’t say that you can’t freeze embryos. It’s even worse — there is no road map.”

In cases of Invitro fertilization, a medical procedure in which eggs are extracted from ovaries and fertilized with sperm outside the body, freezing the eggs can become a wider issue. During IVF, multiple embryos can be created at the same time in case the patient’s pregnancy attempts are unsuccessful.

“But what if we can’t freeze them?” Collura adds. “Will we hold people criminally liable because you can’t freeze a ‘person’? This opens up so many questions.”

Dana Sussman, the deputy executive director of Pregnancy Justice told the Washington Post that “This is a cause of great concern for anyone that cares about people’s reproductive rights and abortion care.”

Democratic senators are also introducing protections after concerns that other bills fail to protect frozen embryos

After Republican lawmakers introduced bills protecting IVF, Democrats have raised concerns regarding the proposals’ failure to answer an important feature of the previous ruling, whether frozen embryos created via IVF are regarded as children.

“What got us here was the definition of a child. And I noticed that this bill does not address a fertilized egg that exists outside of the uterus,” Democratic Senator Linda Coleman-Madison, said during the hearing while referencing SB 160. “That’s what got us here.”

She argues that clarity on whether frozen embryos are considered children is essential to avoid future legal battles and ensure responsible legislation.

“Some people are trying to take their embryos to another state to store them,” she said. “Is that child trafficking because it’s defined as a child? This just opens up a lot of things that a smart lawyer — and they are out there — is going to take to the max.”

She continued, “They’re going to take it to the max unless we redefine this, as far as whether an embryo is a child.And if we don’t deal with the elephant in the room that got us to this place, we’re going to be back here.”