More Alabama IVF providers pause treatment after court ruling on frozen embryos

Two more IVF providers in Alabama have paused parts of their treatment, sending patients scrambling to make other plans after the state Supreme Court ruled that frozen embryos are legally considered children.

Alabama Fertility Services (AFS) said it has made “the impossibly difficult decision… due to the legal risk to our clinic and our embryologists”.

The Centre for Reproductive Medicine at Mobile Infirmary also decided to pause IVF treatment because of the ruling.

The decisions come a day after the University of Alabama at Birmingham health system said in a statement that it was pausing IVF treatments so it could evaluate whether its patients or doctors could face criminal charges or punitive damages.

“AFS will not close. We will continue to fight for our patients and the families of Alabama.”

Doctors and patients have been grappling with shock and fear this week as they try to determine what they can and cannot do after the ruling by the all-Republican Alabama Supreme Court that raises questions about the future of IVF.

Alabama Fertility Services’ decision left Gabby Goidel, who was days from an expected egg retrieval, calling clinics across the south looking for a place to continue IVF care.

“I freaked out. I started crying. I felt in an extreme limbo state. They did not have all the answers,” Ms Goidel said.

The Alabama ruling came down on Friday, the same day Ms Goidel began a 10-day series of injections ahead of egg retrieval, with the hopes of getting pregnant through IVF next month. She found a place in Texas that will continue her care and planned to travel there on Thursday night.

Ms Goidel experienced three miscarriages and she and her husband turned to IVF as a way of fulfilling their dream of becoming parents.

Containers holding frozen embryos and sperm are stored in liquid nitrogen at a fertility clinic in Fort Myer
Doctors and patients are trying to determine what they can and cannot do after the ruling (Lynne Sladky/AP)

Dr Michael C Allemand, a reproductive endocrinologist at Alabama Fertility, said on Wednesday that IVF is often the best treatment for patients who desperately want a child, and the ruling threatens doctors’ ability to provide that care.

“The moments that our patients are wanting to have by growing their families — Christmas mornings with grandparents, kindergarten, going in the first day of school, with little backpacks — all that stuff is what this is about. Those are the real moments that this ruling could deprive patients of,” he said.

Dr Brett Davenport, a doctor at the Fertility Institute of North Alabama, posted a video to social media urging his patients not to panic, saying that IVF care would continue

“We are still going to perform IVF as we always have,” he said in the video.

Justices — citing language in the Alabama Constitution that the state recognises the “rights of the unborn child” — said three couples could sue for wrongful death when their frozen embryos were destroyed in an accident at a storage facility.

“Unborn children are ‘children’… without exception based on developmental stage, physical location, or any other ancillary characteristics,” Justice Jay Mitchell wrote in Friday’s majority ruling. He said the court had previously ruled that a foetus killed when a woman is pregnant is covered under Alabama’s Wrongful Death of a Minor Act and nothing excludes “extrauterine children from the Act’s coverage”.

While the court case centred on whether embryos were covered under the wrongful death of a minor statute, some said treating the embryo as a child — rather than property — could have broader implications and call into question many of the practices of IVF.

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