Alabama’s governor signs law protecting IVF providers from legal liability

(Butch Dill/Associated Press)

Alabama’s governor signs law protecting IVF providers from legal liability



March 6, 2024

Facing pressure to restart in vitro fertilization services in the state, Alabama’s governor quickly signed a law Wednesday that protects doctors from potential legal liability stemming from a court ruling that equated frozen embryos with children.

Republican Gov. Kay Ivey signed the bill after it was approved during a late evening session by lawmakers rushing to answer a wave of criticism after services were cut at some of the state’s largest fertility clinics. Doctors at at least one clinic said they would resume IVF services on Thursday.

“I am pleased to sign this important short-term measure into law so that Alabama couples hoping and praying to become parents can grow their families through IVF,” Ivey said.

Republicans in Alabama’s Republican Party-dominated legislature chose to support the immunity proposal as a solution to the clinic’s concerns. But they shunned proposals that would address the legal status of embryos created in IVF labs, measures that some say would be necessary to permanently resolve the issue.

The Alabama Supreme Court ruled last month that three couples whose frozen embryos were destroyed in an accident at a storage facility could file wrongful death lawsuits against 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. Three major IVF providers have stopped providing services.

The new law, which took effect immediately, protects healthcare providers from prosecution and civil lawsuits for damage to or death of an embryo during IVF services. Civil lawsuits could be filed against manufacturers of IVF-related goods, such as the nutrient-rich solutions used to grow embryos, but damages would be limited to the price paid for the affected in vitro cycle.

Patients and doctors had traveled to Montgomery to urge lawmakers to find a solution. Couples described appointments that were abruptly canceled and how their path to parenthood was suddenly called into question.

Doctors at the Alabama Fertility Clinic, one of the clinics that halted IVF services, watched as the bill was finally passed. They said this will allow them to resume embryo transfers from tomorrow.

We have some transfers tomorrow and Friday. This means we can do embryo transfers and hopefully have more pregnancies and babies in the state of Alabama, says Dr. Mamie McLean said after the vote.

Liz Goldman was at home feeding her daughter a bottle while watching the Senate vote on a livestream. She didn’t understand it, but it excited me, Goldman said of her daughter.

Goldman, whose daughter was conceived via IVF after a uterus transplant, hopes to become pregnant with a second child. But her plans were thrown into doubt when IVF services were interrupted. With a complex medical history and a team of doctors involved in her care, she couldn’t simply move to another state, she said.

I’m super grateful. The past two weeks have been the most stressful time of my trip and I have been through a lot, Goldman said.

Republican Sen. Larry Stutts, an obstetrician and gynecologist who cast the lone no vote in the Senate on Wednesday, said the bill is an IVF provider and supplier protection bill and does not protect patients or their embryos.

It effectively limits the ability of mothers involved in IVF to seek redress and it places a dollar value on human life, Stutts said.

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 that this was the most direct way to address the issue. Republicans have not put the proposal to a vote.

We’re not offering a solution here, said Rep. Chris England, a Democrat from Tuscaloosa. We create more problems. We need to confront the elephant in the room.

State Republicans are reckoning with a crisis they helped create by adding anti-abortion language to the Alabama Constitution in 2018. The amendment, which was approved by 59% of voters, says it is state policy to protect the rights of the unborn recognize children.

The phrase became the basis of the Supreme Court’s ruling. At the time, supporters said the state could ban abortion if Roe vs. Wade would be destroyed, but opponents claimed it could determine the personality of fertilized eggs.

England said the legislation is an attempt to play “Whac-A-Mole” instead of addressing the real issue: the implications of personality-style language in the Alabama Constitution.

The American Society for Reproductive Medicine, a group that represents IVF providers across the country, says the legislation doesn’t go far enough. Sean Tipton, a spokesman for the organization, said this week that the legislation does not solve the fundamental problem, which is the court ruling confusing fertilized eggs with children.

The bill’s Republican sponsors, Sen. Tim Melson and Rep. Terri Collins, said the proposal was the best immediate solution they could find to resume IVF services.

The goal is to get these clinics open again and women get their treatment and have successful pregnancies, Melson said.

Republicans are also trying to navigate tricky political waters, torn between widespread popularity and support for IVF and conflict within their own party. Some Republicans tried to introduce an amendment to the bill that would ban the destruction of unused embryos.

Melson and Collins said lawmakers may need to explore additional measures, but said it is a difficult subject.

I think there are too many disagreements about when real life begins. Many people say conception. Many people say implantation. Others say heartbeat. I wish I had the answer, Melson said when asked about proposals to say frozen embryos cannot be considered children under state law.

Melson, a physician, said any additional legislation should be based on science and not just good feelings.”

“I can tell you there are a lot of different opinions about what the right thing to do is,” he said.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here


Hot Topics

Related Articles