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Alabama legislature approves bills to protect IVF after state Supreme Court ruling

Alabama approves bills to protect IVF
Alabama lawmakers work to safeguard IVF practices 02:46

Washington — The Republican-led Alabama House and Senate overwhelmingly voted to approve legal protections to health care entities that provide in vitro fertilization services, with lawmakers taking swift action to mitigate the backlash against a state Supreme Court decision that found frozen embryos can be considered children under state law.

The state House bill, introduced by state Rep. Terri Collins, a Republican, would extend civil and criminal immunity to providers of IVF services, and would apply retroactively. The legislation passed by a vote of 94 to 6.

The state Senate bill, offered by GOP Sen. Tim Melson, affords clinics providing IVF treatments the same protections and received unanimous approval. Each of the bills now heads to the other chamber.

The proposals prompted several hours of fierce debate in both chambers, as well as unsuccessful attempts to amend the House version.

Speaking on the House floor, Collins told her colleagues that the measure "will help us achieve our goal, which is to continue the process for those families going through in vitro fertilization." In the legislature's upper chamber, Melson said he was looking to help women who have already begun the IVF process but have now seen several clinics in the state suspend or limit services following the state Supreme Court's ruling.

The Alabama State Capitol in Montgomery, Alabama, on Wednesday, Feb. 28, 2024.
The Alabama State Capitol in Montgomery, Alabama, on Wednesday, Feb. 28, 2024. Andi Rice/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Rep. Ernie Yarbrough, who at one point quoted rapper Vanilla Ice, called the destruction of frozen embryos during the IVF process a "silent holocaust going on in our state."

Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey, a Republican, said earlier this week that the state works "to foster culture of life, and that includes IVF," and expects to have a bill on her desk addressing the issue "very shortly."

Alabama lawmakers moved to take up the separate bills amid widespread fury over the Alabama Supreme Court's ruling roughly two weeks ago that frozen embryos can be considered children under state law. The decision stemmed from wrongful death lawsuits filed by three sets of parents whose frozen embryos were destroyed after a fertility clinic patient removed and dropped several embryos in December 2020.

The state's highest court concluded that an Alabama law first enacted in 1872 "applies to all unborn children, regardless of their location."

"Unborn children are 'children' under the Act, without exception based on developmental stage, physical location, or any other ancillary characteristics," Justice Jay Mitchell wrote in the majority opinion, referencing Alabama's Wrongful Death of a Minor Act.

The impacts of the decision were nearly immediate. The University of Alabama at Birmingham's Division of Reproductive Endocrinology and Infertility announced it would be pausing IVF treatments, citing the potential for criminal prosecution of its physicians and patients. Two more IVF providers paused services in the wake of the decision. Alabama has seven clinics that offer IVF treatments.

Advocates of IVF treatment rallied on the steps of the Alabama Legislature on Wednesday to push lawmakers to protect providers from prosecution.

At the federal level, Sen. Tammy Duckworth, an Illinois Democrat, took action Wednesday to pass legislation that would create federal protections for IVF access nationwide. But Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith, a Mississippi Republican, blocked the bill, saying in remarks on the Senate floor that the proposal is a "vast overreach that is full of poison pills that go way too far."

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