Alabama lawmakers pass legislation to protect IVF treatment

Alabama lawmakers pass legislation to protect IVF treatment

The Alabama Legislature voted Thursday to protect IVF doctors from criminal or civil liability if the embryos they help create are later damaged or destroyed.

The swift action by both the House and Senate on bills to protect IVF came less than two weeks after the state Supreme Court ruled that frozen embryos are human and that humans can be held responsible for their destruction them The unprecedented ruling, which gave fertilized eggs the same protections as babies under the Wrongful Death Act, has thrown IVF treatment in Alabama into turmoil.

Within days, almost every clinic in the state either stopped IVF or stopped discarding embryos. Some women in the middle of treatment fled the state after securing care from out-of-state providers. Many others feared that their significant emotional, physical and financial investment in having a child would be for naught.

A woman who appeared before a House committee Wednesday testified that she spent nearly $400,000 on IVF that would be wasted if the programs are not restored soon.

Nationally, the questions raised by the Alabama case have roiled the Republican Party — a significant portion of which has long held that life begins at conception, the bedrock of conservative opposition to abortion.

Last week, former President Donald Trump and GOP candidates in high-profile Senate races in more than half a dozen states emphasized their support for the patients and providers involved. “IVF is a ray of hope for millions of Americans seeking the blessing of children,” Dave McCormick, who is running for Pennsylvania, posted on X. “I oppose any effort to limit it.

Meanwhile, Senate Republicans in Washington blocked legislation on Wednesday that would have protected access to IVF.

The measures, which passed almost unanimously in both Alabama houses Thursday afternoon, provide legal immunity “for death or damage to an embryo” related to IVF. Wording differences between the two bills must be reconciled before they are sent to Gov. Kay Ivey, most likely next week.

Ivey (R), who has expressed support for ensuring that IVF treatment can continue in Alabama, is expected to sign the final text into law.

The bills sparked a heated, highly emotional debate Thursday over women’s reproductive rights and how the state has determined when life begins, most recently in a 2018 constitutional amendment cited in the ruling.

“What happens to these children that are left in this cold freezer, these babies?” asked Sen. Bobby Singleton, the Democratic minority leader. “Because that’s life.”

Senator Timothy Melson, a retired anesthesiologist who sponsored the bill, responded that IVF doctors “often eliminate those that are not optimal.”

“It’s already an abortion!” Singleton yelled, noting that he’s heard from IVF women who were worried about criminal charges. He accused his colleague of relying too much on clinics and trial lawyers in writing the measure, granting immunity to doctors but not to female patients.

“We’re getting into a deep topic when it comes to when life begins and abortion,” said Melson, a Republican. “I’m not trying to take away anyone’s rights. I’m just trying to help these ladies. I sympathize with their cause, with the cause of their families.”

Republican Sen. Larry Stutz, an OB/GYN and the bill’s sponsor, acknowledged the “moral quandary” of IVF, but said the discarded embryos are a “tiny, tiny percentage” compared to those used or retained.

“We could pass a law limiting the number of eggs you can fertilize in one cycle. But I don’t think we should legislate that,” Stuts said. “I’m not talking about morality, I’m talking about the practice of medicine.”

In the House of Representatives, an unusual mix of Democrats and right-wing Republicans also botched the bill and tried unsuccessfully to amend it.

“Isn’t it possible to do IVF in a pro-life way that treats embryos as the children they are?” Republican Ernie Yarbrough said, citing both scripture and Vanilla Ice. He called the destruction of embryos as part of IVF “a silent holocaust happening in our country.”

“Isn’t it worth a break? Could there be a more pressing issue than ensuring that we do not condone the extermination of children?” Yarbrough pleaded.

Congressman Rolanda Hollis (D) denounced the House bill as a Band-Aid that was “too small for the wound.”

“We need to think about the health and safety of our women. We need to start standing up as women,” she said.

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