Will Alabama ever have a long-term IVF solution? ‘There’s a shadow hanging over patients’

By Alander Rocha & Alabama Reflector

Families, doctors, and other advocates rallied at the Alabama State House on Wednesday, Feb. 28, 2024, to urge legislators to resolve an interruption to in vitro fertilization services in Alabama.(Mike Cason)

When the Republican-dominated Legislature passed a bill in March to protect in vitro fertilization (IVF) services in the state, legislators said they planned to form a commission to study the issue further.

Almost three months later, that commission has yet to form.

“I don’t really have an update right now. I think over the next couple of weeks, we’re going to actually tour some IVF centers and get more information,” said Rep. Terri Collins, R-Decatur, who carried the bill in the House, after the bill’s passage in the Senate.

Following a Feb. 16 Alabama Supreme Court decision that declared frozen embryos children, the Legislature moved quickly to protect IVF clinics from criminal and civil liability. After critics called the legislation a “Band-Aid fix,” Republican legislators signaled they would study the issue further.

The court’s ruling stemmed from a lawsuit regarding the unauthorized destruction of frozen embryos at a Mobile clinic in 2020. It decided that the parents could seek damages under an 1872 state law for the deaths of their children.

Following the ruling, several IVF programs closed due to legal risks to patients and providers. The Mobile health care system that provided in vitro fertilization (IVF) care said the clinic will stop the services at the end of the year, citing lawsuits over the fertility treatment.

Collins, who sponsored Alabama’s near-total abortion ban in 2019, said that there are a “few different groups” that will tour the clinics, but she did not name groups or individuals involved.

    “It’s been different people that have been able to meet the different times. I don’t know who’s going to go to each of the meetings,” Collins said.

    She also did not say who would be in the study commission.

    “I don’t know who will be a part of the entire thing — no, I don’t,” Collins said, adding that once those meetings happen and they start to talk about legislation, she’ll “know better who’s going to be a part of it.”

    Charles Murry, spokesperson for House Speaker Nathaniel Ledbetter, R-Rainsville, said in a text the office “should have an announcement on that in the next week.”

    Betsy Campbell, chief engagement officer at RESOLVE: The National Infertility Association, said that Collins has been in contact with the organization and is “interested in making sure that access to IVF is protected in Alabama.”

    “We haven’t had any detailed conversations,” Campbell said, and added that the organization “offered to be a resource as they explore a more permanent solution for full and permanent protection of IVF in the state.”

    The court also based its decision on a 2018 “Sanctity of Life” amendment to the Alabama Constitution, passed by the Republican-controlled Legislature in 2017 and approved by voters in 2018. The amendment says that “it is the public policy of this state to recognize and support the sanctity of unborn life and the rights of unborn children, including the right to life.”

    House Minority Leader Anthony Daniels, D-Huntsville filed an amendment to address the issue by another constitutional amendment. It was co-sponsored by all 28 Democratic House members, but it did not come up for a committee vote.

    Daniels did not return a request for comment.

    Campbell said the legislation was designed to be a short-term solution to ensure access to IVF, but “everyone agreed that it didn’t address the underlying issue of the [state] Supreme Court ruling — that embryos have the same rights as living children.”

    “That issue still needs to be addressed, or there’s a shadow hanging over patients and providers during IVF that could still impact the standard of care,” she said.

    She said she hopes the issue is resolved next year, as the uncertainty around the temporary solution could hurt people and providers.

    “We want to make sure that whatever legislation that passes is not passed in haste, but really done thoughtfully. At the same time, you don’t want this to drag on and have patients concerned about whether they should embark on this medically necessary treatment in their home state,” Campbell said.