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Alabama passes law to protect IVF providers from legal action

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Alabama passes law to protect IVF providers from legal action

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — Facing pressure to resume in vitro fertilization services in the state, Alabama’s governor quickly signed a law Wednesday that protects doctors from potential legal action. by a court ruling that equated frozen embryos with children.

Republican Gov. Kay Ivey signed the law passed in a late-night session by lawmakers trying to respond to a wave of criticism after some of the state’s largest fertility clinics suspended operations. Doctors at at least one of the clinics said they would resume IVF services on Thursday.

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

Republican state lawmakers proposed immunity from lawsuits as a way to reopen clinics. However, they refused to introduce a text that would address the legal status of embryos, which some said was necessary to definitively resolve the issue.

The state Supreme Court had concluded that three couples whose frozen embryos were destroyed in an accident at a storage facility could sue for wrongful death of their “extrauterine children.” The ruling, which treated the embryo the same as a child or unborn fetus, raised concerns about the clinics’ legal liability. Three large centers suspended their operations.

The new law, which went into effect immediately, protects providers from lawsuits and criminal charges for “the damage or death of an embryo” in IVF services. Civil lawsuits could be filed against manufacturers of products related to the process, such as nutrient-rich solutions used to grow embryos, but damages would be limited to “the price paid for the affected in vitro cycle.”

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Patients and doctors had traveled to Montgomery to urge congressmen to find a solution. They recounted how embryo transfers had suddenly been canceled and their path to parenthood had been left in doubt.

Doctors at Alabama Fertility, one of the clinics that had stopped services, watched the bill’s final passage. They said that would allow them to resume embryo transfers “starting tomorrow.”

“We have some transfers tomorrow and some on Friday. This means that we will be able to do embryo transfers and hopefully have more pregnancies and babies in the state of Alabama,” said Dr. Mamie McLean after the vote.

Republican Senator Larry Stutts, an obstetrician and gynecologist who cast the only dissenting vote in the Senate on Wednesday, said the rule is “a law to protect IVF providers and practitioners” and does not protect patients or their embryos.

“It actually limits the ability of mothers involved in IVF to have recourse, and puts an economic value on human life,” she said.

House Democrats proposed legislation that would establish in state law or the state Constitution that a human embryo outside the womb cannot be considered an unborn child or a human being in state law. Democrats argued it was the most direct way to address the issue. Republicans have not brought the proposal to a vote.

State Republicans were addressing a crisis they helped create in part when an anti-abortion section was added to the Alabama Constitution in 2018. The amendment, approved by 59% of voters, indicated that the state’s policy is to recognize “rights of unborn children”.

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That phrase became the basis of the court ruling. His supporters then said he would allow the state to ban abortion if the US Supreme Court precedent of Roe v. Wade was overturned, but critics said it could establish personhood for fertilized eggs.

For its part, the American Society for Reproductive Medicine, a group that represents IVF providers nationwide, said the legislation doesn’t go far enough. Sean Tipton, a spokesman for the organization, said the legislation does not correct the fundamental problem, which he said is that the court “mixes fertilized eggs with children.”

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

“The goal is for these clinics to reopen and for women to receive their treatment and have successful pregnancies,” Melson said.

Republicans also manage a delicate situation, divided between broad popularity and support for IVF and conflicts in their own party. Some Republicans tried to include an amendment in the law that would prohibit the destruction of unused embryos.

“I think there are too many differences of opinion about where life begins. Many people say that at conception. Many people say that in the implementation. Others say in the heartbeat. I wish I had the answer,” said Melson, who pushed for the new law.

Melson, who is a doctor, said MPs would have to come up with additional legislation, but it should be based on “science, not gut feelings”.

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