Alabama lawmakers aim to approve immunity laws for IVF providers

MONTGOMERY, Ala. — Alabama lawmakers, facing public pressure to restart in vitro fertilization services, are nearing passage of immunity legislation to protect providers from the fallout of a court ruling that equated frozen embryos with children.

Committees in the Alabama House of Representatives and the Alabama Senate will debate legislation Tuesday to protect providers from lawsuits and criminal charges for “damage or death of an embryo” during IVF services. Republican Sen. Tim Melson, the sponsor of the Senate bill, said Monday that they hope to get the bill passed, and on Wednesday against Gov. Kay Ivey.

“We expect the IVF protection legislation to receive final approval this week and look forward to the governor signing it into law,” said Ivey spokeswoman Gina Maiola.

Three major IVF providers have halted services following an Alabama Supreme Court ruling last month that three couples whose frozen embryos were destroyed in a storage facility accident could file wrongful death lawsuits for their “ectopic children” . The ruling, which treated an embryo the same as a child or pregnant fetus under the wrongful death statute, raised concerns about clinics’ civil liability.

The court’s ruling also caused an immediate backlash. Groups across the country raised concerns about a court ruling recognizing embryos as children. Patients in Alabama shared stories of upcoming embryo transfers that were abruptly canceled and their path to parenthood thrown into doubt.

Republicans in Alabama’s Republican Party-dominated legislature see the immunity proposal as a solution to clinics’ concerns. But Republicans have pushed back on proposals that would address the legal status of embryos created in IVF labs.

Alabama providers have supported the potential passage of the proposed immunity law.

“Let’s restart IVF as soon as possible,” Fertility Alabama, one of the providers forced to pause services, wrote in a social media post urging support for the bill. A telephone message to the clinic was not immediately returned Monday.

However, the American Society for Reproductive Medicine, a group that represents IVF providers across the country, said the legislation does not go far enough.

Sean Tipton, a spokesman for the organization, said Monday that the legislation does not solve the “fundamental problem,” which he said is the court ruling “confusing fertilized eggs with children.”

House Democrats have proposed legislation stating that a human embryo outside the womb cannot be considered an unborn child or human being under state law. Democrats argued last week that this is the most direct way to address the issue. Republicans have not put the proposal to a vote.

The GOP proposals state that “no action, lawsuit or criminal prosecution for the damage to or death of an embryo shall be brought for “providing or receiving services relating to in vitro fertilization.” The legislation would apply retroactively, except in cases where a lawsuit is already underway.

The House and Senate passed nearly identical versions of the bills last week. The House version includes legal protections not only for IVF services, but also for the “goods” or products used in IVF services.

The bill’s Senate sponsor, Melson, said last week he was uncomfortable with exempting products — which he said could include the nutrient-rich solutions used in IVF to help embryo development. He noted that there were allegations that a defective batch of a storage solution caused embryos to be lost.