The Alabama legislature voted Thursday to protect doctors doing in vitro fertilization from criminal or civil liability if embryos they help to create are subsequently damaged or destroyed.


An in vitro fertilization embryologist works on a petri dish at a fertility clinic in London in 2013. Sang Tan/Associated Press, file

The fast action by both House and Senate on bills to shield IVF came less than two weeks after the state’s Supreme Court ruled that frozen embryos are people and that individuals could be liable for destroying them. The unprecedented decision, which gave fertilized eggs the same protection as babies under the state’s Wrongful Death of a Minor Act, threw IVF treatment in Alabama into turmoil.

Within days, nearly every clinic in the state either suspended IVF or halted embryo disposal. Some women in the middle of treatment fled the state after securing care from out-of-state providers. Many others feared that their significant emotional, physical and financial investment in having a child would be for naught.

One woman who appeared before a House committee Wednesday testified that she had spent nearly $400,000 on IVF, which would be for naught if programs were not restored soon.

The measures that passed almost unanimously in both Alabama chambers Thursday afternoon provide legal immunity “for death or damage to an embryo to any individual or entity when providing or receiving goods or services related to in vitro fertilization.”

They provoked heated, highly emotional debate about women’s reproductive rights and how the state has defined when life begins, most recently in a 2018 constitutional amendment cited in the court ruling.


“What happens to those children that are left in that cold freezer, those babies?” asked Sen. Bobby Singleton, the Democratic minority leader. “Because that’s life.”

Sen. Timothy Melson, a retired anesthesiologist who sponsored the bill, replied that IVF doctors “frequently eliminate the ones that aren’t optimal.”

“That’s abortion now!” Singleton shouted, noting that he’d heard from women doing IVF who were worried about being charged with crimes. He accused his colleague of relying too heavily on clinics and trial lawyers in writing the measure, granting doctors immunity but not female patients.

“We’re getting into a deep subject as far as when life begins and abortion,” said Melson, a Republican. “I’m not trying to take anybody’s rights away. I’m just trying to help these ladies. I’m sympathetic to their cause, to their families’ cause.”

Republican Sen. Larry Stutts, an OB/GYN and the bill’s sponsor, acknowledge the “moral quandary” with IVF but said discarded embryos are “a small, small percentage” compared to the ones used or retained.

“We could pass a law limiting the number of eggs you can fertilize in a cycle. But I don’t think we should legislate that,” Stutts said. “I’m not talking about morality, I’m talking about the practice of medicine.”


In the House, an unusual combination of Democrats and right-wing Republicans also faulted the bill and attempted unsuccessfully to amend it.

“Is it not possible to do IVF in a pro-life way that treats embryos as children, which they are?” Republican Rep. Ernie Yarbrough said, quoting both scripture and Vanilla Ice. He called the destruction of embryos as part of IVF “a silent holocaust going on in our state.”

“Is this not worth a pause? Can there be any issue more pressing than ensuring we are not endorsing the destruction of children?” Yarbrough pleaded.

Rep. Rolanda Hollis condemned the House bill as a band-aid that’s “too little for the wound.”

“We need to think about the health and safety of our women. We have to start standing up as women,” she said.

Legislation is soon expected to go to Gov. Kay Ivey, who has voiced support for ensuring that IVF treatment can continue in Alabama.

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