Alabama lawmakers nearing approval of immunity laws for IVF providers

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

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

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

Three major IVF providers paused services after the Alabama Supreme Court ruling last month that three couples who had frozen embryos destroyed in an accident at a storage facility could pursue wrongful death lawsuits for their “extrauterine children.” The ruling, treating an embryo the same as a child or gestating fetus under the wrongful death statute, raised concerns about civil liabilities for clinics.

The court decision caused an immediate backlash as groups across the country raised concerns about a court ruling recognizing embryos as children. Patients in Alabama shared stories of having upcoming embryo transfers abruptly canceled and their paths to parenthood thrown into in doubt.

Republicans in the GOP-dominated Alabama Legislature are looking to the immunity proposal as a solution to clinics’ concerns. But they have shied away from proposals that would address the legal status of embryos created in IVF labs.

“Let’s get IVF restarted ASAP,” Fertility Alabama, one of the providers that paused services, wrote in a social media post urging support for the bill.

However, The American Society for Reproductive Medicine, a group representing 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 correct the “fundamental problem,” which he said is the court ruling “conflating fertilized eggs with children.”

House Democrats proposed legislation last week stating that a human embryo outside a uterus can not be considered an unborn child or human being under state law. Democrats argued that was the most direct way to deal with the issue. Republicans have not brought the proposal up for a vote.

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

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

The Senate sponsor of the bill, Melson, said last week that he was uncomfortable exempting products, which he said could include the nutrient-rich solutions used in IVF to help embryos develop. He noted there were accusations that a faulty batch of a storage solution caused embryos to be lost.

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