Alabama Governor Signs IVF Protection Bill, But Experts Say It Will Take More Work to Protect Fertility Services


Montgomery, Alabama
CNN

Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey signed legislation late Wednesday aimed at protecting IVF patients and providers from legal liability, leaving some clinics poised to halt some IVF services earlier this week after an unprecedented state Supreme Court ruling. The future of infertility treatment is in turmoil.

The new law does not address the problem at the heart of man An unprecedented verdict last month In a case stemming from the accidental destruction of frozen embryos at a fertility clinic, experts say it will take more work to protect fertility services in the state. The fertility clinic at the center of the lawsuit has suspended services and told CNN that the new law falls short of providing the legal protections needed to resume care.

A state court ruled that frozen embryos are human and those who destroy them can be held liable for wrongful death, prompting a national reckoning with reproductive health freedoms and IVF access.

Three of the state's limited IVF providers immediately suspended some services and sent away some families Out of state Access to treatment and raising concerns about rising costs of fertility services.

The Republican-backed legislation, which passed both the Alabama House and Senate late Wednesday, before Ivy signed it into law, aims to give providers and patients civil and criminal immunity for destroying or damaging embryos. The Act applies retrospectively.

“The law does not invalidate the Supreme Court's analysis,” Catherine Kraschel, an assistant professor at Northeastern University School of Law, told CNN on Tuesday.

“There's a lot of ambiguity in the language” in the law, he noted, adding, “If I'm counseling a clinic, I'm going to get a huge pause before resuming treatment.”

The wording of the law does not clearly define what should come under IVF services, raising a question about the storage and transport of embryos, he noted.

While the law shields providers from liability when destroying embryos, it also could insulate them from standard medical malpractice claims, experts have expressed concern.

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A Republican state senator voted against the measure in the state Senate. Larry Stutz criticized the language in the bill, arguing that it is “not an IVF protection bill, it's an IVF provider and supplier protection bill.” “Limiting the ability of mothers involved in IVF to seek help.”

The legislation was introduced by Rep. Terry Collins and Sen. Tim Melson stated that it aims to provide immediate relief to families who have lost access to IVF services.

“It addresses the immediate issue, and that's what I'm trying to do today. Do we have to make a long decision? Yes, we do,” Collins said Thursday.

“This is a temporary solution,” Melson said Thursday during debate on the legislation on the floor. “It puts women who are currently in a situation, women who are confused, back into the clinic.”

Governor Ivey acknowledged that the new law was a quick fix after the court ruling and noted that “there will be more work to be done” on IVF protections.

“I am pleased to sign this important, short-term measure into law so that couples in Alabama who hope and pray to become parents can grow their families through IVF,” Ivey said in a statement late Wednesday. “IVF is a complex issue, no doubt, and I expect more work to come, but for now, I believe this legislation will provide the necessary guarantees to our IVF clinics and lead to the immediate resumption of services.”

Alabama Fertility, one of the clinics that halted IVF treatment after the state court's ruling, plans to resume those services this week, in Birmingham..

The clinic canceled at least 35 frozen embryo transfers within 12 days of stopping treatment. With patients already scheduled to continue treatment, the team plans to resume IVF treatments on Thursday or Friday, said the clinic's physician, Dr. Mamie McLean.

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“We believe this bill will provide immediate, complete and permanent access to IVF treatments in Alabama,” he said. “We can't wait to celebrate with our patients. Honestly, we can't wait to do the first embryo transfer, can't wait to see the first positive pregnancy test … It means more than it ever did before.

McLean joined families and other IVF advocates at the Alabama State House last week in calling for services to be restored immediately, as lawmakers inside rushed to pass legislation that would protect them.

“We appreciate the legislators' efforts to pass a bill that meets the needs of all stakeholders involved in IVF treatment in Alabama,” McLean said. “We are grateful that they heard our voices. We are proud of our patients who have been so inspired and courageously shared their stories in our advocacy efforts on behalf of infertility patients.

The state's largest health care system, the University of Alabama at Birmingham, which suspended fertility services after the state court decision, said it would resume IVF treatment but would “continue to assess developments,” university spokeswoman Hannah Echols said.

The defendants in the state Supreme Court case, Mobile Hospital's Reproductive Medicine Center, have not yet resumed IVF services, according to a statement from the hospital.

“As we understand the language of the proposed law, we will not reopen our IVF facility until we have legal clarity on the extent of immunity provided by the new Alabama law,” the statement said. “At this time, we believe the legislation falls short of addressing the statewide statewide storage of fertilized eggs, and leaves challenges for doctors and fertility clinics trying to help eligible families have children of their own.”

The American Society for Reproductive Medicine issued a statement Thursday saying that without legislation to address the issue of whether a fertilized egg is legally considered a person, IVF providers are even more vulnerable.

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“We believe these bills do not provide the guarantees Alabama's fertility doctors need to be sure they can continue to provide the best quality care to their patients without putting themselves, their colleagues and their patients at legal risk,” the statement said.

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The Alabama Supreme Court ruling stems from two lawsuits filed by three parents who underwent IVF procedures to have children and decided to freeze their remaining embryos.

In 2020, parents sued an Alabama fertility clinic after several frozen embryos fell to the floor and were destroyed. A trial court initially rejected the claims, but a state Supreme Court ruling reversed that decision.

A fourth suit has been filed against the defendants in this case.

Although the new law applies retroactively, it does not affect litigation Alabama Constitution It says the new law cannot be applied to active cases.

Groups representing defendants in the cases culminated in the Supreme Court ruling Frozen embryos According to the children have applied to the court for a retrial of the case Online registrations From the Alabama Courts of Appeals.

Although the justices could take more than six weeks to decide whether to grant the application to reconsider the case, the group is asking the court to reconsider their ruling, an Alabama court source told CNN.

Some legal experts are skeptical that the court will agree to retry the case.

While some clinics plan to resume services, Kraschel said the court's decision could have an impact on Alabama families going forward.

“Courts, particularly in Alabama, may cite the Alabama Supreme Court decision to treat fetuses as human beings in other areas of the law,” he said.

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