Alabama lawmakers move to protect IVF treatment

An Alabama Supreme Court Ruling that classifies frozen embryos as "extrauterine children" has led to uncertainty for IVF patients and clinics in the state.
An Alabama Supreme Court Ruling that classifies frozen embryos as "extrauterine children" has led to uncertainty for IVF patients and clinics in the state.
Richard Drew/AP

Six days after Alabama's Supreme Court ruled that frozen embryos are "children," upending in vitro fertilization treatments, a Republican state senator said he plans to introduce a bill that would protect IVF statewide.

State Sen. Tim Melson, who chairs the Senate's Health Care Committee, said the bill would clarify that embryos are not viable unless they are implanted in a uterus.

In its decision, the State Supreme Court gave frozen embryos the same rights as children. The court ruling came in a lawsuit by couples whose frozen embryos were accidentally destroyed in a clinic. The judges ruled that the states laws concerning wrongful deaths of minors do not exclude "extrauterine children."

The judges urged the state Legislature to clarify Alabama law, which holds that life begins at conception.

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"They just read the bill, and the way it's written, it's like if you're going to say from conception, it's life, which I do believe it is. But it's not a viable life until it's implanted in the uterus," Melson said about Friday's ruling.

Melson, who is also a medical doctor, says his proposal would make clear that "a human egg that is fertilized in vitro shall be considered a potential life," but should not be legally considered a human life until it is implanted in a uterus."

Fertility clinics in Alabama are anxiously waiting for the Legislature to act, and at least three of them have put IVF treatment on hold or restricted their services. The University of Alabama at Birmingham health system, the state's largest hospital, said it is also halting some IVF services.

"This is a huge, huge issue that affects so many families, and so many patients throughout the nation that we are very hopeful that there are dedicated, very intelligent, motivated legislatures that will help us with this process," said Dr. Beth Malizia with Alabama Fertility, which runs three clinics in Alabama.

They have halted all new IVF treatment due to potential legal risks.

The Center for Reproductive Medicine in Mobile, the clinic at the center of the Supreme Court lawsuit, has also halted IVF services. "The recent Alabama Supreme Court decision has sadly left us with no choice but to pause IVF treatments for patients," it said in a statement.

"We are considered a pro-life state. But what's so ironic about that is there's not anything a lot more pro-life than a fertility practice trying to help couples who can't conceive, conceive a baby, " said Dr. Brett Davenport, with Fertility Institute of North Alabama, which has not curtailed services.

Alabama's Supreme Court ruling has reverberated across the U.S.

President Biden tied it directly to the U.S. Supreme Court decision in 2022 that ended the federal right to an abortion: "Make no mistake: this is a direct result of the overturning of Roe v. Wade." Speaking today in Grand Rapids, Mich. Vice President Kamala Harris said, "So on the one hand, the proponents are saying that an individual doesn't have a right to end an unwanted pregnancy. And on the other hand, the individual does not have a right to start a family. And the hypocrisy abounds."

Alabama Democrats have introduced a bill that also makes it clear that an embryo outside a womb would not be considered a human child, but they are in the minority in the state legislature.

Melson, a Republican, hopes his legislation will pass quickly so that Alabama's IVF clinics can continue to operate.

"This issue is one that I've heard from several infertility clinics, and they're anxious to get it out and have the ability to go back to functioning," he said.

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