Mar 6, 2024 - Health

How Louisiana IVF clinics have worked around an embryo destruction ban for 40 years

Illustration of a spotlight shining on an IVF injection close up.

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

Louisiana IVF clinics have managed to work around a nearly 40-year ban on the destruction of embryos, continuing to help grow families while shipping embryos out of state for storage.

Why it matters: Louisiana's ban was the nation's only law like it until the recent Alabama Supreme Court ruling that legally redefined the embryos as children.

  • Now, that decision has Louisiana IVF clinics and patients on edge as concerns spike that state lawmakers could change restrictions here, too.

Context: It's common in IVF procedures for more embryos to be created than are transferred into a person's womb for a successful pregnancy.

  • But since a 1986 Louisiana statute defined an embryo as "a juridical person" with limited rights, the state has banned the destruction of any "viable embryos," though there aren't any criminal implications when one is "unintentionally harmed," according to the Washington Post.
  • However, what the law considers viable can be different from what the medical community considers viable, as the paper reports.

How it works: Louisiana's medical community hailed the 1986 statue as a relative success because it represented a compromise between doctors and some religious groups, according to the Post.

  • In practice, IVF clinics were able to continue working only by storing embryos out of state. A Journal of Law and the Biosciences article even held up the method last year as a copyable framework should other states follow the 1986 law.
  • Still, the embryo shipments are logistically and legally cumbersome, and they add another layer of complexity to an already emotionally fraught and expensive process.
  • "It's so much going back and forth with all these different companies," one prospective parent told the Post. "It's been a mess … especially when you're the one who is trying to get pregnant."

State of play: Louisiana's IVF clinics are continuing procedures, but carefully watching developments.

  • They're also getting calls from prospective patients in Mississippi and Alabama hoping to transfer their care over concerns they won't be able to continue trying to get pregnant in their home states, said Nicole Ulrich of New Orleans IVF clinic Audubon Fertility, according to NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune's Emily Woodruff.
Assisted reproductive technology procedures performed per 1 million women in 2021
Note: Assisted reproductive technology refers to all treatments or procedures that include the handling of human eggs or embryos to help a woman become pregnant; Reproduced from the CDC; Chart: Axios Visuals

By the numbers: In Louisiana, 712 babies were born in 2021 with the use of assisted reproductive technologies like IVF, according to the most recent CDC data, accounting for 1.2% of the state's births that year.

  • But it took the state's four IVF clinics just more than 1,500 embryo transfers to get that number of infants.

Flashback: In 2022, before the Alabama ruling, Louisiana IVF providers and patients fought to have language removed from state lawmakers' consideration that would have criminalized harming or disposing of a fertilized egg.

  • The bill's original aim was to allow women who terminated their pregnancies to be charged with murder, according to The Advocate.

What we're watching: Louisiana lawmakers head back to Baton Rouge for the third time this year when the regular legislative session begins March 11.

  • Some medical providers are already working with legislators to craft new language protecting IVF practices in the state, the Post reported.

Go deeper: Why IVF often requires multiple embryos.

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