Mar 11, 2024 - News

Tennessee bill to codify IVF protection fails

Illustration of the Tennessee State Capitol building with lines radiating from it.

Illustration: Allie Carl/Axios

A bill to protect in vitro fertility treatments from Tennessee's strict abortion ban failed in a House subcommittee last week.

Why it matters: There's a push to protect IVF treatments in the law following a ruling by the Alabama Supreme Court, which found that frozen embryos should be considered children.

State of play: Reproductive rights advocates led by the Tennessee Freedom Circle sought to clarify that fertility treatments are protected under Tennessee law.

  • The proposed legislation also would have protected contraception approved by the federal Food and Drug Administration.

Zoom in: Gov. Bill Lee said he supports IVF treatments. A 2022 legal opinion by Tennessee Attorney General Jonathan Skrmetti concluded that fertility treatments are not banned under the abortion law.

  • Despite Lee's support and the AG opinion, advocates worry a legal gray area, similar to what happened in Alabama, could arise here. To avoid that, they said, explicit protections are needed.

Driving the news: In its meeting on Tuesday, the House population health subcommittee rejected the bill from Rep. Harold Love, D-Nashville. Republican lawmakers expressed doubt during the meeting that clarifying language is necessary.

  • "It is legal here in Tennessee," said Rep. Bryan Terry of Murfreesboro. "And there's not something that anybody's doing to not make that legal here in Tennessee."

The latest: In his State of the Union speech on Thursday, President Biden urged Congress to protect IVF treatments.

By the numbers: 1,025 infants were born in Tennessee in 2021 with the use of assisted reproductive technologies like IVF, according to the most recent CDC data.

  • That accounts for 1.3% of all births in Tennessee that year.

More than 2,055 embryo transfers were performed in Tennessee to get that number of infants.

What's next: Tyler Chance Yarbro, who chairs the Tennessee Freedom Circle advocacy group, tells Axios her organization will focus on "educating and engaging with lawmakers across the political spectrum."


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