young pro-choice protesters in Florida

Reproductive rights supporters hold signs at a protest in support of abortion access on July 13, 2022 in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

(Photo: John Parra/Getty Images for MoveOn)

Florida Lawmakers Shelve 'Fetal Personhood' Bill After Alabama IVF Backlash

The bill would allow civil lawsuits over the "wrongful death" of an "unborn child," including in potential cases involving in vitro fertilization.

Florida Republicans are unlikely to pass a so-called "fetal personhood" bill during the current legislative session following a Senate committee's decision on Monday to postpone further consideration of the proposal, which had been approved by several committees before an Alabama Supreme Court ruling last week sparked a national uproar over the right-wing push to secure rights for "the unborn."

The panel said it was temporarily postponing Senate Bill 476, which would define a fetus as an "unborn child" with the protections of civil negligence laws. The proposal is aimed at making abortion providers and others who help secure abortion care for pregnant people liable in potential civil lawsuits.

Under the law, said opponents, prospective parents could also potentially seek damages in the "wrongful death" of an embryo, in the case of in vitro fertilization (IVF).

"Florida's legislature needs to really take a hard and careful look at what the unintended impacts to IVF in Florida could be going forward."

The proposal garnered national attention in recent days after the Alabama Supreme Court ruled that IVF patients could sue a clinic for the "wrongful death" of embryos that were accidentally destroyed, with the court claiming embryos have the same rights as children.

Republicans have backpedaled since the ruling was announced, claiming to support IVF—even though attacks on fertility treatments are hardly a rarity in the anti-abortion rights movement. During her confirmation hearing in 2020, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Amy Coney Barrett sparked rebuke by refusing to oppose criminalization of IVF.

Florida's legislative session ends March 8, and the Senate Rules Committee canceled a hearing for a companion bill that had been scheduled for Monday.

Florida Democratic Party Chair Nikki Fried said that the Alabama ruling—but not genuine concern for the fact that IVF could be implicated in the bill—forced Republicans to shelve the proposal for now.

"‘If the Alabama ruling didn't happen last week, Florida's fetal personhood bills would likely have passed during legislative session," said Fried.

The public backlash over the ruling, said the state Democrats, "set an important tone with Republican lawmakers and sent a strong message that banning abortion and limiting a full range of reproductive healthcare is deeply unpopular."

The ACLU of Florida urged lawmakers to completely "shut down" the bill to prevent IVF clinics from shutting down for fear of liability due to the loss of embryos that is inherent in the IVF process.

"What we know from this past month in Alabama and what we've seen so far in Florida, is that anti-abortion extremists are not going to stop at a six-week ban, they are not going to stop with allowing frivolous civil lawsuits against providers and friends, and families, they are not going to stop with banning IVF," said Kara Gross, legislative director and senior policy counsel for the group. "Their goal is complete government control over any individual reproductive freedoms and this is one more step that takes them closer to that goal. Enough is enough."

"What was unthinkable a year ago is now a reality in Alabama," Gross added. "IVF clinics are pausing their operations. Florida's legislature needs to really take a hard and careful look at what the unintended impacts to IVF in Florida could be going forward."

Gross pointed out that Florida residents who suffer pregnancy loss "due to the wrongful acts of another are permitted to recover money damages" already—making the bill "unnecessary for that purpose."

In addition to opening IVF clinics up to liability, the bill would pave the way for cases like that of Texas resident Marcus Silva, who filed a civil lawsuit last year against friends of his ex-wife who helped her secure an abortion.

"This bill would have a chilling effect on doctors providing necessary healthcare," said Gross, "on patients seeking the care they need, and on family members and friends who support their loved one seeking access to abortion care."

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