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IVF Ruling

Alabama Senate and House pass bills to protect IVF after court ruling

Both chambers of the Alabama Legislature passed Republican-proposed bills intended to protect in vitro fertilization Thursday after the state Supreme Court ruled that embryos are considered children.

The House and the Senate still need to vote on a unified version of the legislation before they send it to Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey, a Republican, for a signature.

The two bills progressed rapidly two weeks after a state Supreme Court ruling imperiled IVF care in the state and prompted a national backlash.

The moves put a measure to protect IVF on track for a full vote in the Legislature on Wednesday. Barring any unexpected major changes, a bill is expected to pass and be signed into law by Ivey shortly thereafter.

The bills are intended to create specific protections that shield patients, doctors and other professionals engaged in IVF services from prosecution and civil suits in the state.

State senators passed SB 159, which would "provide civil and criminal 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."

The bill 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 goods or services related to in vitro fertilization."

State House members passed an identical companion bill, HB 237.Over nearly six hours of debate in total, lawmakers from both major parties raised dozens of objections to the proposals — but they still passed each overwhelmingly.

Democrats mostly criticized the fact that the proposals failed to explicitly clarify whether an embryo created by IVF should be treated as a child under Alabama law — the core question that arose from the state Supreme Court ruling this month. Both Republican and Democratic lawmakers raised concerns that the “immunity” offered to medical personnel treating IVF patients was too broad and risked leaving women who are injured or adversely affected during care without recourse.

“There are parts that are still missing,” Democratic Rep. Adline Clark said. “Major parts.”

The bills’ Republican sponsors acknowledged that their proposals were imperfect but said they were intended as a quick fix that would allow the several IVF clinics in the state that closed after the ruling to reopen without fear.

“We want the clinics to be open,” said Republican Terri Collins, the House bill’s chief sponsor. “This is what this is trying to accomplish.”

“Getting the clinics open was our priority,” she added. On multiple occasions, Collins said she wanted her colleagues, following enactment of the bill, to take time to “look at the issue” more broadly in hopefully coming up with a more comprehensive bill to protect IVF.

Reproductive rights groups slammed the proposals, saying they failed to fully protect IVF care against the broader issues the ruling raised.

“While these bills aim to establish legal safeguards for IVF providers, it’s important to recognize their limited effectiveness in addressing the full scope of the recent Alabama Supreme Court ruling, which deems embryos created through IVF to be ‘minor children,’” Planned Parenthood Southeast spokesperson Jaylen Black told NBC News.

“Rather than tackling the substantive issue,” Black added, “the current legislative focus is on removing all regulation of IVF facilities and providers, and limiting liability.”

Alabama lawmakers have scrambled to come up with a fix that would protect IVF practices in the state after the ruling, which prompted several IVF clinics in the state to halt their services and gave rise to broader concerns that anti-reproductive rights conservatives could go after the medical procedure.

The state Supreme Court effectively ruled that embryos created through in vitro fertilization are considered children. Specifically, the 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 repercussions if embryos are discarded — a common part of the IVF process, because some embryos can have genetic abnormalities or may no longer be needed.

The decision triggered outcry against Republicans in Alabama and across the U.S. who have opposed reproductive rights.

In Alabama, that has meant that Republican lawmakers have faced immense pressure to respond to the ruling with a legislative fix to protect IVF — including calls from former President Donald Trump to fix the issue “quickly.”