Feb 21, 2024 - Politics & Policy

Fertility treatments freeze after Alabama Supreme Court's embryo ruling

Illustration of hand with gavel breaking a red cross symbol.

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Doctors and patients are already rethinking fertility treatments after the Alabama Supreme Court ruled last week that frozen embryos should receive legal protections as "unborn life."

Driving the news: The University of Alabama at Birmingham paused in vitro fertilization treatments, citing "the potential that our patients and our physicians could be prosecuted criminally or face punitive damages for following the standard of care."

  • Medical professionals throughout the state are questioning whether they'll need to overhaul their approach to IVF, most likely in ways that could make it riskier, more expensive and more painful for women trying to conceive.

Catch up quick: Alabama's Supreme Court ruled Friday that frozen embryos are legally children, making it a crime to destroy those embryos.

How it works: Doctors performing IVF typically try to retrieve as many eggs as possible, fertilize them and then transfer a fertilized egg back into the patient.

  • The rest are kept frozen. It often takes more than one transfer to get pregnant, and the frozen embryos are also there if the patient decides to have more children later.
  • "Under the current Alabama ruling, patients nor physicians nor IVF labs are going to be willing to have frozen embryos," Mamie McLean, a physician at one of Alabama's largest fertility clinics, told The Washington Post.

What we're watching: Other conservative states are likely to follow Alabama's lead, which could create broad regional barriers to fertility treatment.

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