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Alabama Governor Signs Bill Granting Immunity to IVF Patients and Providers

“This is the temporary fix,” one lawmaker said.

In a cell laboratory at the Fertility Center Berlin, an electron microscope is used to fertilize an egg cell on January 17, 2024.

On Wednesday night, the Alabama State Legislature approved a bill providing civil and criminal immunity for both in vitro fertilization (IVF) service providers and recipients. Gov. Kay Ivey (R) signed the bill into law within an hour of its approval in the Alabama Senate.

“I am pleased to sign this important, short-term measure into law so that couples in Alabama hoping and praying to be parents can grow their families through IVF,” Ivey said in a statement. “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.”

Legislators rapidly moved to provide protection for both IVF providers and recipients in response to a February 16 ruling by the Alabama Supreme Court, which determined that frozen embryos are legally considered children under state law, thereby granting them rights consistent with any person living in the United States. This ruling led to multiple clinics halting IVF services in fear of civil and criminal liability, forcing families to leave the state to access care.

“While this marks the first time a frozen embryo has been granted personhood, it is not the first time we’ve seen anti-abortion lawmakers elevate and amplify the idea of so-called ‘fetal personhood,’ in an attempt to strip away rights from people who can become pregnant and people who are,” the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) said last month.

However, while the new law will protect IVF providers and patients, it does not directly undertake the question of fetal personhood, which was central to last month’s ruling. Advocates have criticized the law for not going far enough to protect people’s access to reproductive care.

“There is a much easier way to protect IVF, which is to actually create a privacy right for patients who need IVF, and then protect their access to these services,” Daphne Delvaux, an employment attorney, told Salon. “Instead, what Alabama did is declare embryos as ‘children’ and then create a law that provides immunity to clinics and providers in cases for wrongful death or harm to an embryo.”

Alabama Rep. Terri Collins (R) and Sen. Tim Melson (R), the sponsors of the bill, emphasized that its aim was to offer immediate relief to families who had lost access to IVF services, as lawmakers contemplate more lasting solutions.

“This addresses the imminent problem and that is what I am trying to do today. Do we need to have the longer decision? Yes, we do,” Collins said Thursday.

“This is the temporary fix,” Melson said. “This gets the ladies now currently in the situation, that are in limbo, back in the clinic.”

Alabama is among four states that have enacted “fetal personhood” laws, although over a third of states recognize fetuses as people at some point during pregnancy, according to POLITICO. Additionally, more than a dozen states have introduced bills this legislative session that would grant fetuses the same rights as a person. However, some states, like Florida, have backtracked on advancing fetal personhood laws after seeing the consequences of such measures in Alabama.

“What we know from this past month in Alabama and what we’ve seen so far in Florida, is that anti-abortion extremists are not going to stop at a six-week ban, they are not going to stop with allowing frivolous civil lawsuits against providers and friends, and families, they are not going to stop with banning IVF,” Kara Gross, legislative director and senior policy counsel at the ACLU of Florida, said in a statement. “Their goal is complete government control over any individual reproductive freedoms and this is one more step that takes them closer to that goal. Enough is enough.”

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