Mar 5, 2024 - News

New bill aims to protect IVF, fertility treatments in Tennessee

Illustration of a stork holding a fountain pen in its beak.

Illustration: Lindsey Bailey/Axios

Tennessee lawmakers are set to consider legislation this week to clarify that the state's strict abortion law doesn't also ban fertility treatments, including the use of in vitro fertilization.

Why it matters: There's an urgent push for legal protections for fertility treatments after Alabama's Supreme Court ruled last month that frozen embryos can be considered children under its state law.

Between the lines: While the Alabama case worked its way through the courts, advocates in Tennessee saw the writing on the wall and began pursuing the clarifying legislation here.

  • In addition to fertility treatments, the legislation clarifies that Food and Drug Administration-approved contraceptive use does not fall under the abortion ban.
  • Tennessee's abortion ban is among the strictest in the nation. It only lists ectopic pregnancies and miscarriages as legally allowed exemptions.
  • The ban doesn't address IVF or other fertility treatments.

Behind the scenes: In the wake of the Dobbs ruling, a prominent group of attorneys formed the Tennessee Freedom Circle to "protect and advance reproductive freedom." The Tennessee Freedom Circle backs the clarifying legislation, which is sponsored by Democratic Rep. Harold Love Jr. and Sen. Raumesh Akbari.

  • There is some bipartisan support. Republican Rep. Ron Travis signed on as a co-sponsor.

What she's saying: Nashville attorney Tyler Chance Yarbro, co-founder and board chair of the Tennessee Freedom Circle, tells Axios that the legal uncertainty surrounding IVF is a "natural but unintended consequence" of the U.S. Supreme Court's Dobbs ruling in 2022.

  • Following the Alabama court ruling, some fertility clinics paused treatments for patients out of fear that continuing IVF treatments could provoke legal ramifications. Alabama subsequently passed a clarifying law that protects doctors and health care providers from criminal prosecution.
  • "Alabama law is different from Tennessee law, but since Dobbs, there are a lot of states that have put into effect abortion bans that lead to the logical conclusion that embryos — even frozen embryos — have as many rights as people who create the embryos," Yarbro says.

Flashback: In 2022, Tennessee Attorney General Jonathan Skrmetti wrote a legal opinion that concluded the state's abortion ban does not apply to unused IVF embryos.

What's next: The legislation is on the agenda for the House population health subcommittee Tuesday at 3pm.

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