Patients urge Alabama lawmakers to restore IVF services in the state

MONTGOMERY, Ala. — Hannah Miles picked up a sign outside the Alabama Statehouse on Wednesday that reflected what she felt: “I just want to be a mom.”

The 29-year-old from Birmingham had turned to in vitro fertilization after three years of infertility. She has one frozen embryo left and would have it transferred next month in the hope of having her first child. But whether that transfer can happen now is in doubt, as fertility clinics have halted some services in the wake of a state court ruling on whether embryos are children under a state law.

More than 150 IVF patients, carrying babies created through IVF or still describing unrealized hopes for parenthood, gathered at the Alabama Statehouse to urge lawmakers to find a way to restore IVF services in the state .

“We’re here because we want a family,” Miles said, wiping away tears. “And this is the only way we can get it.”

Alabama judges said this month that three couples whose frozen embryos were destroyed in an accident at a storage facility 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. It had an immediate chilling effect on the availability of IVF in the Deep South State. Three of the state’s largest clinics quickly announced a pause on IVF services.

Patients have been left in the dark as lawmakers scrambled to see what they could do to restore IVF in the state.

Republican lawmakers — who have faced pushback from conservative groups over any proposal that would exempt an embryo from the definition of human life — have introduced bills that would retroactively provide civil and criminal immunity to fertility clinics. Republicans have a lopsided majority in the Alabama Legislature. House Minority Leader Anthony Daniels, a Democrat, has introduced a bill that would say that a fertilized human egg or embryo outside the uterus “shall not be considered an unborn child or human being for any purpose under state law ”.

The Alabama justices based their decision in part on anti-abortion language that voters added to the Alabama Constitution in 2018, saying it is state policy to recognize the rights of unborn children. Advocates are concerned that IVF will become increasingly enmeshed in the abortion debate.

Barbara Collura, president of RESOLVE: The National Infertility Association, said the nation is watching to see what happens in Alabama.

“This could potentially be a roadmap for other states to restrict IVF or a roadmap for protecting IVF and family formation,” Collura said.

Dr. Michael C. Allemand said the past 10 days had been the “hardest of my career” as he had tear-filled conversations with patients about “we might have to interrupt their journey.”

“Everyone is crying. They cry. I’m crying,” Allemand said. “I never expected that we wouldn’t be able to provide standard fertility care to our patients.”