Alabama university pauses IVF treatments after court ruling

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An Alabama university temporarily halted in-vitro fertilization (IVF) treatments on Wednesday after the high court in the southern U.S. state ruled that frozen embryos outside the womb are children.

The University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) said it had paused IVF treatments “as it evaluates the Alabama Supreme Court’s decision that a cryopreserved embryo is a human being.”

“We are saddened that this will impact our patients’ attempt to have a baby through IVF,” the university said in a statement.

“But we must evaluate the potential that our patients and our physicians could be prosecuted criminally or face punitive damages for following the standard of care for IVF treatments,” it said.

The university stressed that it is only IVF treatment that is paused and “everything through egg retrieval remains in place.”

“Egg fertilization and embryo development is paused,” it said.

The university decision to pause IVF treatments comes days after the Alabama Supreme Court ruling in a lawsuit filed against a fertility clinic, under the state’s 1872 Wrongful Death of a Minor Act.

The suit was filed by three couples whose frozen embryos were destroyed by a patient who “managed to wander into” a cryogenic nursery where they were stored and accidentally dropped several of them on the floor.

A lower court ruled the frozen embryos could not be considered a “person” or “child” and dismissed the wrongful-death claim.

But the Alabama Supreme Court, in a 7-2 ruling Friday, disagreed, saying “the Wrongful Death of a Minor Act applies on its face to all unborn children, without limitation.”

“It applies to all children, born and unborn,” Justice Jay Mitchell wrote in an opinion sprinkled with quotes from the Bible.

“The People of Alabama have declared the public policy of this State to be that unborn human life is sacred,” Mitchell added in a reference to the conservative state’s near-total ban of abortion.

The court ruling drew criticism from the White House and Resolve: The National Infertility Association, which said it could have “devastating consequences” for fertility clinics in the state.

“This new legal framework may make it impossible to offer services like IVF, a standard medical treatment for infertility,” Resolve said.

 ‘Embryos, to me, are babies’ 

Alabama is one of some two dozen states that have banned or restricted abortion access following the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2022 ruling overturning the constitutional right to the procedure.

The Medical Association of the State of Alabama warned in a brief to the state’s high court that fertility clinics risked higher costs or shutting down because of “increased exposure to wrongful death liability.”

Republican 2024 presidential hopeful Nikki Haley said meanwhile that she sided with the Alabama court’s decision.

“Embryos, to me, are babies,” Haley told NBC News. “When you talk about an embryo, you are talking about, to me, that’s a life. And so I do see where that’s coming from when they talk about that.”

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