Three Alabama clinics pause IVF services after court rules that embryos are children

Less than a week after the Alabama Supreme Court ruled that embryos created through in vitro fertilization are considered children, three IVF providers in the state have suspended services as they consider the legal repercussions of the decision.

The University of Alabama at Birmingham was first to announce the change on Wednesday. Then another practice, Alabama Fertility, posted a statement Thursday on social media saying it would put a hold on IVF treatments. The Center for Reproductive Medicine at Mobile Infirmary — the clinic sued in the court case — said Thursday that it would pause IVF procedures starting Saturday.

“We understand the burden this places on deserving families who want to bring babies into this world,” said Mark Nix, CEO of Infirmary Health, the system that includes Mobile Infirmary.

In its statement, Alabama Fertility said it was trying to find solutions for affected patients and "working as hard as we can to alert our legislators as to the far reaching negative impact of this ruling on the women of Alabama."

Hannah Echols, a spokesperson for UAB, said that health system will continue to offer egg retrieval but will no longer fertilize eggs or develop embryos.

"We are saddened that this will impact our patients’ attempt to have a baby through IVF, 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," Echols said in a statement.

The practice of IVF involves combining sperm and eggs in a lab to create embryos, then implanting one or more of those embryos in a person’s uterus. Extra embryos are often frozen and stored; however, embryos are also frequently discarded if they have genetic abnormalities or if patients do not need to use them.

Because of the Alabama Supreme Court ruling, IVF providers now fear they or their patients could face legal penalties if they discard any embryos.

However, many questions remain about the ruling's implications. The judges' decision came in response to a unique case in which a person wandered into an unlocked storage area at Mobile Infirmary in Mobile, Alabama, and dropped several frozen embryos on the floor.

The court determined on Feb. 16 that the clinic's failure to secure that storage area violated the state’s Wrongful Death Act — which says an unjustified or negligent act that leads to someone’s death is a civil offense — because the frozen embryos were considered human beings.

Meghan Cole, a patient at Alabama Fertility, has a rare blood disorder that prevents her from safely carrying children, so she had been planning to start a family through IVF and surrogacy. The surrogate set to carry Cole's baby was supposed to receive an embryo implantation on Friday.

But last night, Cole's doctor called to tell her the implantation appointment had been canceled. Now she doesn't know when she'll be able to use her embryos.

"I thought it was going to be one of the best days of our lives tomorrow, and now we’re just devastated," she said.

However, other fertility practices in the state continue to offer IVF, hoping the legal confusion will resolve in their favor soon.

"We're not pausing our IVF services. I don't see a reasonable need to do that," said Dr. Brett Davenport, a reproductive endocrinologist at Fertility Institute of North Alabama.

"I have been working hard on adjusting our consent forms so that we can have a discussion with the patients who are now going through IVF or about to have an embryo transfer to where they now are aware of this law, they're aware of the implications," he added.

Huntsville Reproductive Medicine said it was proceeding with IVF treatments, as well, but that it does not plan to discard any frozen embryos for the time being without a notary-signed consent from patients. Before the Alabama ruling, the clinic was set to discard several batches of frozen embryos that had been abandoned, it said — some of which were from 16 years ago.

Gail Deady, senior staff attorney at the Center for Reproductive Rights, said the Alabama ruling suggests IVF providers could face civil — not criminal — penalties in some situations, meaning they’d have to pay damages.

The Medical Association of Alabama on Wednesday called on the Alabama Supreme Court to reconsider or suspend its ruling so that residents can have continued access to IVF.

It said the ruling, and UAB's subsequent decision to suspend IVF treatments, “will likely lead to fewer babies — children, grandchildren, nieces, nephews, and cousins — as fertility options become limited for those who want to have a family.”

RESOLVE: The National Infertility Association called the ruling cruel and said UAB had been “forced to make an impossible decision: pause IVF procedures for those hoping to build their families or put their patients and doctors at risk of prosecution.”

In 2021, more than 97,000 infants were born in the U.S. using assisted reproductive technology, which includes IVF. Globally, IVF results in more than 500,000 deliveries per year.

This article was originally published on