A woman goes through her IVF medications

A woman goes through her IVF medications at home in Parkville, Maryland on May 10, 2022.

(Photo: Carolyn Van Houten/The Washington Post via Getty Images)

Impact of Alabama Embryo Ruling Widens as GOP Attempts Damage Control

"I refuse to believe that Republican lawmakers who sponsored legislation that would restrict or ban IVF—and who now decry the Alabama ruling—didn't know exactly what they were doing," said one journalist.

Reproductive justice advocates on Friday rejected attempts by Republican lawmakers to distance themselves from an Alabama Supreme Court ruling that claimed embryos are "children"—a decision that critics said was a direct result of the U.S. Supreme Court's overturning of Roe v. Wade—as the far-reaching impact of the ruling became increasingly apparent.

In Alabama and across the country, Republican legislators in recent days have claimed they'll prioritize protections for in vitro fertilization (IVF) as clinics in the state have alerted patients they will not be able to proceed with their attempts to start or grow a family.

The clinics have cited what one critic called a "radically theocratic" state Supreme Court ruling this week that found couples have a right to sue a fertility center for "wrongful death" after their embryos were accidentally destroyed. The all-Republican court quoted the Bible as it ruled the embryos were classified as children.

The ruling, said the Center for Reproductive Medicine in Mobile on Thursday, "has sadly left us with no choice" but to halt all IVF treatment.

The clinic is one of just seven IVF facilities in the state and is the third to announce this week that it would have to suspend treatments because of the legal risk posed by the ruling. Because fertility doctors help prospective parents to conceive multiple embryos and the procedure has only a 50% success rate, numerous embryos are lost in the process—making clinics potentially liable for their "wrongful deaths" under the court ruling.

Alabama state lawmakers said Friday they were considering legislation to protect IVF, while the National Republican Senatorial Committee sent a memo to senators advising them to "clearly state your support for IVF and fertility-related services as blessings for those seeking to have children," warning that a failure to do so could risk alienating "a staggering 85%" of voters who support increasing access to fertility treatments.

Despite the GOP's attempt to distance itself from the ruling, said Slate journalist Mark Joseph Stern, "it is literally impossible to square these talking points with the Republican Party's position on 'equal rights' for 'the unborn' from 'the moment of fertilization!'"

Stern also pointed to U.S. Rep. Michelle Steel (R-Calif.), who on Thursday shared her own experience with infertility and said IVF helped her to start a family.

While Steel may have personally benefited from fertility treatment, said Stern, it didn't stop her from co-sponsoring the Life at Conception Act, which would grant "equal rights" to the "preborn," including embryos—clearing implicating the IVF process if it were passed into law.

"I refuse to believe that Republican lawmakers who sponsored legislation that would restrict or ban IVF—and who now decry the Alabama ruling—didn't know exactly what they were doing," said Stern.

Beyond the halting of fertility treatments in Alabama this week, on Friday RESOLVE: The National Infertility Association warned that nationwide embryo shipping services have announced that they will suspend transport of embryos to and from Alabama to avoid potential litigation.

"Since the court's ruling, doctors have been forced to deliver devastating news to their patients, who dream of becoming parents and whose plans are on hold indefinitely, all because of the court's disregard for science," said Barbara Collura, president and CEO of the organization. "And now, this slight window of hope for Alabamans currently undergoing IVF to continue their family-building treatment in other states just slammed shut. Thousands of Alabamans trying to build their families are being held hostage by this destructive ruling. IVF must be restored in the state immediately, without fear of criminal prosecution."

Along with current GOP lawmakers, former Republican President Donald Trump—who secured the right-wing majority on the Supreme Court that overturned Roe and who is the presumptive GOP presidential nominee in the November election—said Friday that he supports "the availability of fertility treatments like IVF in every state in America."

Democratic President Joe Biden's reelection campaign, however, laid the blame for the Alabama ruling with the former president, sending an email to supporters with a statement from Amanda Zurawski, who nearly died because doctors in Texas delayed providing her with abortion care when she faced pregnancy complications.

"If you're fortunate enough to have little to no experience with IVF, you don't know the layers of fear that are now compounding our ability to have a family," Zurawski told MSNBC on Friday. "This happened in Alabama and depending on what happens in November, this could be a nationwide situation. Trump has already said that he supports a nationwide abortion ban, and this is his fault."

"Because of the Supreme Court justices that he appointed and the fall of Roe, now states have the ability to pass these draconian laws," she added, "and we have no idea how far it's going to go, and that's what's absolutely terrifying."

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