Alabama governor signs bill to protect IVF treatments into law

  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.

Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey signed a GOP-proposed bill to protect in vitro fertilization into law Wednesday night after weeks of backlash prompted by a controversial state Supreme Court ruling that embryos are considered children.

Ivey, a Republican, signed the measure just moments after lawmakers passed it and sent it to her desk.

"IVF is a complex issue, no doubt, and I anticipate there will be more work to come, but right now, I am confident that this legislation will provide the assurances our IVF clinics need and will lead them to resume services immediately," she said in a statement.

The swift action by the Republican-dominated Legislature capped a tumultuous weekslong sprint by lawmakers in the ruby red state sparked by the state Supreme Court's controversial ruling.

While the legislation enacted late Wednesday fails to answer the core question prompted by the court's decision — whether an embryo created by IVF should be treated as a child under Alabama law — the measure's Republican supporters were hopeful it would serve as a short-term solution that would allow clinics in the state that had halted their services to reopen.

The immediate responses from such clinics were mixed: Two said they would resume services quickly, but one of those expressed significant caution.

The enacted legislation doesn’t define or clarify whether under state law frozen embryos created via IVF have the same rights as children. Rather, the narrowly tailored bill is designed to protect doctors, clinics and other health care personnel who provide IVF treatment and services by offering such workers civil and criminal “immunity.”

The new law will “provide civil and criminal immunity for death or damage to an embryo to any individual or entity when providing or receiving services related to in vitro fertilization.”

It says that “no action, suit, or criminal prosecution for the damage to or death of an embryo shall be brought or maintained against any individual or entity when providing or receiving services related to in vitro fertilization.”

During debates in both chambers Tuesday, lawmakers removed the word “goods” from the phrase “goods or services” from the bill, meaning companies that provide items that are integral to the IVF process could still face civil suits — but not criminal prosecution — if their products are determined to damage or destroy embryos. The enacted bill also caps the monetary awards in such suits at the price patients paid for the affected IVF cycle.

Reproductive-rights advocates have said providers of such goods could, most prominently, include the liquid solution clinics use to help grow embryos.

Those groups criticized the legislation, saying it failed to fully protect IVF care against the broader issues the ruling raised.

Barbara Collura, the president of RESOLVE: The National Infertility Association, said in a statement that while her group was "relieved that Alabama clinics can reopen their IVF programs," the "legislation does not address the underlying issue of the status of embryos as part of the IVF process — threatening the long-term standard of care for IVF patients."

"There is more work to be done," Collura said.

Karla Torres, senior counsel at the Center for Reproductive Rights, said the bill “falls far short of what Alabamans want and need to access fertility care in their state without fear.”

“Even on its face, this bill seeks to grant personhood to embryos, reinforcing the state Supreme Court’s extreme ruling recognizing embryos as children,” Torres said, adding that the legislation amounted to “backpedaling in the face of state and nationwide public outcry to allow politicians to save face.”

Nevertheless, at least two fertility clinics in the state signaled they were prepared to resume embryo transfers and other care as soon as this week.

“We believe that it provides the protections that we need to start care, or resume care,” Dr. Janet Bouknight, who practices at Alabama Fertility — one of the clinics that paused IVF after the ruling — said of the legislation.

But officials at UAB, which had also halted care, expressed caution.

"While UAB is moving to promptly resume IVF treatments, we will continue to assess developments and advocate for protections for IVF patients and providers," Hannah Echols, a UAB spokesperson, said in a statement.

The votes Wednesday followed multiple hearings over the past few weeks featuring hours of emotional and tense debate among state lawmakers, who, despite broad objections to the proposals, repeatedly voted overwhelmingly to continue advancing them.

During discussions last week about the bills, pro-reproductive-rights Democrats joined anti-abortion-rights Republicans in criticizing the bill for failing to explicitly clarify whether an embryo created by IVF should be treated as a child under Alabama law.

Democrats had sought language clarifying that embryos weren’t children under the law, while some Republicans had argued for “personhood” language establishing that they were. Democrats in the GOP-controlled Legislature had proposed their own bills that sought to explicitly clarify that an embryo “outside of the uterus” isn’t “considered an unborn child,” though those bills didn’t advance.

The enacted bill’s Republican supporters repeatedly said that the legislation is imperfect and that it is intended as a quick fix to allow the several IVF clinics in the state that closed after the ruling to reopen without fear of criminal prosecution or civil suits for their employees.

In her statement after she signed it, Ivey called the bill a "short-term measure" that could allow "couples in Alabama hoping and praying to be parents" to "grow their families through IVF."

Her signature — at least for now — caps weeks of national blowback prompted by the state court’s decision that embryos created through in vitro fertilization are considered children.

Specifically, the Alabama Supreme Court found that people can be held legally responsible for destroying embryos under a state wrongful death law declaring that an unjustified or negligent act leading to a person’s death is a civil offense. As a result, providers of IVF services and embryo transport could have faced repercussions if embryos were discarded — a common part of the IVF process, because some embryos can have genetic abnormalities or may no longer be needed.

The ruling last month immediately prompted several IVF clinics to halt their services and gave rise to broader concerns that anti-reproductive-rights conservatives elsewhere could go after the medical procedure.

The decision triggered a massive outcry against Republicans in Alabama and across the U.S. who have opposed reproductive rights — including calls from former President Donald Trump to address the issue “quickly” — sending lawmakers in the state scrambling to come up with a fix.

This article was originally published on