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An Alabama woman diagnosed with cervical cancer was using a surrogate to have a third child. Now, the process is on hold.

Alabama IVF ruling impacts cancer survivor
Alabama Supreme Court IVF ruling affects cancer survivor's treatment options 02:40

Nurse and cancer survivor Sarah Houston of Birmingham, Alabama, has found her dreams of growing her family through in vitro fertilization on indefinite hold due to a recent Alabama Supreme Court decision. The ruling, which assigns frozen embryos the same rights as children, has led to a sudden stop in IVF procedures at three of the state's leading clinics.

Houston's journey to motherhood took a turn following the 35-year-old's cervical cancer diagnosis, which required a hysterectomy, removal of her uterus and cervix and other tissues, seemingly crushing her hopes of having a third child. 

Despite these challenges, the discovery that her ovaries were unaffected led Houston and her husband to explore the IVF process. The couple found a surrogate to carry their child, with the embryo transfer scheduled for March 21.

However, their plans were abruptly derailed by a call from her doctor, who informed her that the procedure was paused due to the recent legal ruling.

"I asked her if it was even an option to move our embryos out of state while we figured things out, and she said that they had been advised not to touch embryos at all," said Houston.

She said the news hit her "very hard." As someone who navigated the harrowing journey of cancer treatment, Houston said she found herself facing a different kind of uncertainty.

"I think that's probably the biggest difference," Houston said. "As far as the pain you feel with the cancer diagnosis versus this is, you don't know when it's gonna end."

The decision has raised widespread concerns over potential liabilities for clinics and doctors performing IVF procedures. According to Mary Ziegler, a law professor and reproductive historian at UC Davis, the ruling by the Alabama Supreme Court introduces a real fear of criminal charges in the future, treating embryos as persons under wrongful death law.

"I think it's a fair reading of this ruling that if the justices view embryos in the way this ruling describes that they would be interested in potentially weighing in on criminal liability down the road," said Ziegler.

A bill was recently introduced in Alabama's state Senate aiming to provide immunity to doctors involved in IVF procedures. Meanwhile, the immediate future remains uncertain for IVF patients.

Gov. Kay Ivey, a Republican, has expressed support for efforts to allow IVF to continue in Alabama. Additionally, U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra met with patients in Birmingham, calling the shutdown a ripple effect of the repeal of a federal right to an abortion.

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