Alabama lawmakers are planning legislation to 'protect' IVF | Here's the latest

ByElizabeth Wolfe, Dianne Gallagher and Mallika Kallingal, CNN, CNNWire
Friday, February 23, 2024
Alabama lawmakers are planning legislation to 'protect' IVF
More in IVF providers in Alabama have paused services, sending patients scrambling to make other plans

Fallout continues in the wake of the Alabama Supreme Court's ruling last week that frozen embryos are children - an unprecedented decision that critics say could have a chilling effect on access to IVF treatments in the state.

Here are the latest developments:

A bipartisan effort is underway in the Alabama House and Senate to draft "clarifying" legislation that would "protect" in vitro fertilization treatments following the court's ruling, state legislative sources told CNN.

ALSO SEE: Alabama's frozen embryo ruling is now having its 1st effects | See what to expect

Alabama House Democrats introduced a bill Thursday that would establish fertilized human eggs stored outside of a uterus are not considered human beings under state law.

Republican state senators are soon expected to file similar legislation, one source said, but they were unsure of the exact timing.

The lawmakers' efforts come as medical experts and critics fear the court's decision - which can put those who discard unwanted embryos at risk of being held liable for wrongful death - could have a profound effect on fertility treatment operations in the state and devastating ramifications for people hoping to build their families through IVF.

Clinics are halting some IVF programs

Already, at least three fertility clinics in Alabama have halted certain IVF treatment programs amid concerns that their medical personnel could be at legal risk.

The ruling "has sadly left us with no choice but to pause IVF treatments for patients," the Center for Reproductive Medicine at Mobile Infirmary said in a statement Thursday, noting it will halt treatments on Saturday "to prepare embryos for transfer."

Earlier Thursday, Alabama Fertility's Birmingham clinic said it had "paused transfers of embryos for at least a day or two."

And the University of Alabama at Birmingham health system said Wednesday it was halting IVF treatment due to legal concerns for its patients and doctors.

Alabama AG hasn't issued guidance for IVF

Amid the legal uncertainty, the Alabama Attorney General's Office hasn't issued guidance on the matter.

"It's not our case," spokesperson Amanda Priest told CNN Thursday. "We have not been involved at all."

Priest declined to say whether the office has received questions from clinics. She also didn't immediately respond to questions about whether the state would criminally charge people who destroy embryos.

Impact of Alabama ruling on cancer patients

The American Cancer Society and its advocacy affiliate, the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, said in a statement Friday that they are deeply concerned about the Alabama Supreme Court ruling's effect on cancer patients, survivors and their families.

"Some cancer treatments can cause infertility, and cancer patients and survivors often rely on IVF to build families after treatment," Karen E. Knudsen, CEO of both groups, said in the statement.

Knudsen added that the ruling especially affects newly diagnosed adolescents and young adults with cancer, as it threatens "a person's ability to preserve fertility prior to initiating cancer treatment or have children after undergoing treatment."

Patients are rushing to find alternative care

Gabrielle Goidel was days away from having her eggs retrieved when her Alabama clinic said it would still perform the procedure but couldn't guarantee being able to make, store or ship embryos.

"It was absolutely my worst fear," Goidel told CNN as she and her husband were planning a last-minute trip to Texas in hopes of having the procedure done there.

The couple plan to travel between their home in Alabama and Texas, where they have family, so they can get the reproductive care they need, Goidel said, noting the travel costs would be significant.

Kelly Belmont, who has also been undergoing IVF treatment in Alabama said the court's ruling has been "consuming my life completely."

"We've already invested so much time and money and just physical and emotional anguish into this process, and to think that it could have all been for nothing and that we could be ending our journey to be able to have children - it's absolutely terrifying," Belmont told CNN.

Belmont's fertility clinic is continuing all treatments for now, she said, but she and her husband is fearful that may change.

"I'm just trying to hold myself together emotionally," Belmont said. "It's so stressful."

Even families who don't live in Alabama are keeping a nervous eye on what happens next.

Julie Eshelman and her husband conceived their first child through IVF and hope to have the option to use the process again. But the military family faces the possibility of being stationed in Alabama, leaving Eshelman and her husband to consider not moving their embryos to the state if they relocate.

"I don't even know that I would actually even think about moving them to a state like Alabama, given the current climate, just because I know that they're safer where they're at right now," Eshelman said.

Critics fear significant ripple effect

Medical experts and critics have expressed concern that the ruling could have widespread consequences for those providing or seeking fertility treatments in Alabama - and warn it may soon have profound impacts elsewhere in the country.

They say it could send liability costs skyrocketing, making fertility treatment prices prohibitive for many families; it could discourage medical providers from performing infertility treatments in fear of being held liable each time an embryo does not turn into a successful pregnancy; and it could mean parents will now be forced to pay for lifelong storage fees of embryos they will never be allowed to discard, even if they don't want any more children.

Critics of the ruling also worry it has created a roadmap for groups and legislators across the country who may wish to target fertility treatments.

"You now have a (state) Supreme Court very emphatically say that a frozen embryo is a person and we're going to see now other states trying to codify that," said Barbara Collura, president and CEO of the patient advocacy organization RESOLVE: The National Infertility Association.

At this point, the US Supreme Court is unlikely to review the Alabama ruling because it doesn't include an interpretation of the US Constitution or federal law.

The majority ruling in this case rested solely on the justices' interpretation of state law and an amendment to Alabama's constitution.

"The US Supreme Court's ability to review state supreme court decisions is limited to decisions that turn on a question of federal law," CNN Supreme Court analyst and professor at the University of Texas School of Law Steve Vladeck said. "Here, the issue is how Alabama is interpreting its own state constitution."

How we got here

In the first-of-its-kind ruling, the court said embryos - whether they're within or out of a uterus - are children and would be protected under Alabama's Wrongful Death of a Minor Act, which allows parents to sue for punitive damages when their child dies.

The court in its majority opinion nodded to a 2018 amendment to the Alabama constitution which provides protections for "the rights of the unborn child," including the right to life.

The Medical Association of the State of Alabama, which weighed in prior to the court's decision, warned the ruling would create an "enormous potential for civil liability" for fertility specialists, because embryos can be damaged or become unsuitable for pregnancy at any time during an IVF process, including when they are being thawed.

The decision could also mean people are unable to discard embryos if they no longer wish to use them, requiring them to be stored in perpetuity - even if one or both of the parents die, the association said.

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