Alabama Lawmakers Aim To Approve Immunity Laws For IVF Providers

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) -- Alabama lawmakers, who face public pressure to get in vitro fertilization services restarted, are nearing approval of immunity legislation to shield providers from the fall out of a court ruling that equated frozen embryos to children.

Committees in the Alabama House of Representatives and the Alabama Senate on Tuesday will debate legislation to protect providers from lawsuits and criminal prosecution for the "damage or death of an embryo" during IVF services. Republican Sen. Tim Melson, the sponsor of the Senate bill, said Monday they are hoping to get the proposal approved and to Gov. Kay Ivey on Wednesday.

"We anticipate the IVF protections legislation to receive final passage this week and look forward to the governor signing it into law," Ivey spokeswoman Gina Maiola said.

Three major IVF providers paused services in the wake of an Alabama Supreme Court ruling last month that three couples, who had frozen embryos destroyed in an accident at a storage facility, could pursue wrongful death lawsuits for their "extrauterine children." The ruling, treating an embryo the same as a child or gestating fetus under the wrongful death statute, raised concerns about civil liabilities for clinics.

The court decision also caused an immediate backlash. Across the country, groups raised concerns about a court ruling recognizing embryos as children. Patients in Alabama shared stories of having upcoming embryo transfers abruptly canceled and their paths to parenthood put in doubt.

Republicans in the GOP-dominated Alabama Legislature are looking to the immunity proposal as a solution to clinics' concerns. But Republicans have shied away from proposals that would address the legal status of embryos created in IVF labs.

Alabama providers have supported the possible passage of the proposed immunity bill.

"Let's get IVF restarted ASAP," Fertility Alabama, one of the providers that had to pause services, wrote in a social media post urging support for the bill. A telephone message to the clinic was not immediately returned Monday.

However, The American Society for Reproductive Medicine, a group representing IVF providers across the country, said the legislation does not go far enough.

Sean Tipton, a spokesman for the organization, said Monday that the legislation does not correct the "fundamental problem" which he said is the court ruling "conflating fertilized eggs with children."

House Democrats proposed legislation stating that a human embryo outside a uterus can not be considered an unborn child or human being under state law. Democrats last week argued that was the most direct way to deal with the issue. Republicans have not brought the proposal up for a vote.

The GOP proposals state that "no action, suit, or criminal prosecution for the damage to or death of an embryo shall be brought for "providing or receiving services related to in vitro fertilization." The legislation would apply retroactively except in cases where litigation is already under way.

The House and Senate last week approved nearly identical versions of the bills. The House version includes lawsuit protections not just for IVF services, but also the "goods" or products used in IVF services.

The Senate sponsor of the bill, Melson, said last week that he was uncomfortable exempting products -- which he said could include the nutrient-rich solutions used in IVF to help embryos develop. He noted there were accusations that a faulty batch of a storage solution caused embryos to be lost.