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Three Alabama providers halt IVF after high court rules embryos are children

Republican presidential candidate and former US Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley greets audience members at a campaign stop in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, US, February 22, 2024.
Republican presidential candidate and former US Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley greets audience members at a campaign stop in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, US, February 22, 2024.
Image: REUTERS/Brian Snyder

At least three Alabama providers of in vitro fertilisation have halted treatments since the state Supreme Court on Friday said frozen embryos in test tubes should be considered children, casting doubt on future access to the procedure in the state.

The ruling by the court, whose elected judges are all Republican, has left doctors and patients wondering how to legally store, transport, and use embryos in Alabama.

Health advocates say by enshrining the idea of “fetal personhood,” the ruling could also inspire further restrictions on women's reproductive freedom around the US.

The University of Alabama at Birmingham said on Wednesday it had paused IVF for fear that “our patients and our physicians could be prosecuted criminally or face punitive damages for following the standard of care for IVF treatments.”

Two other providers, Alabama Fertility and the Center for Reproductive Medicine at Mobile Infirmary, announced on Thursday that they had also paused IVF treatments. Six other Alabama fertility service providers did not respond to Reuters questions about their intent to continue the service. It was difficult to pin down how many such facilities are in Alabama.

Between them, the three providers that have already halted treatments used assisted reproductive technology to achieve more than 400 pregnancies in 2021, the most recent year for which data was available from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

President Joe Biden, a Democrat, said in a statement on Thursday that the ruling had put access to fertility treatment “at risk for families who are desperately trying to get pregnant,” and that it showed “outrageous and unacceptable” disregard for personal choice.

Biden called the ruling a “direct result” of the 2022 US Supreme Court decision to overturn its landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that had recognised women's constitutional right to abortion.

Republican presidential candidate Nikki Haley on Wednesday said in an interview that she believed embryos were “babies.” But in comments on Thursday to CNN Haley said she disagreed with the Alabama court's ruling and believed Alabama law needed to be reviewed.

“We don't want fertility treatments to shut down,” Haley said. “We don't want them to stop doing IVF treatments. We don't want them to stop doing artificial insemination.”

The former South Carolina governor has said she had her own son after using artificial insemination, a different procedure which does not involve embryos in a lab.

The Alabama case was brought by three couples seeking damages from a centre storing their frozen embryos after a patient accessed and destroyed them.

The high court ruled that Alabama's constitution clearly considered embryos “unborn children ... without exception based on developmental stage, physical location, or any other ancillary characteristics,” citing a constitutional amendment that Alabama voters approved in 2018 which granted foetuses full human rights, including the right to life.

IVF treatment typically involves the creation of multiple embryos to maximise the chance of a successful pregnancy, leaving some unused.

Republican Alabama state lawmaker Tim Melson said on Thursday he planned to file a bill that could shield IVF providers from legal risk by clarifying that embryos are not viable until they are implanted in the uterus, according to local news reports.

Alabama Fertility urged its social media followers to push their elected officials to support the legislation.

“At a time when we feel so powerless, advocacy and awareness is our strongest tools,” the provider wrote in an Instagram post on Thursday.


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