Alabama hospital pauses IVF treatments after court rules embryos are ‘children’

Alabama’s largest hospital has paused IVF treatments following a controversial court ruling in the state that said frozen embryos in test tubes should be considered children.

The University of Alabama at Birmingham said in a statement late on Wednesday that it must evaluate whether its patients or doctors could face criminal charges or punitive damages for undergoing IVF treatments.

“We are saddened that this will impact our patients’ attempt to have a baby through IVF,” the statement said.

The all-Republican Alabama Supreme Court ruled last Friday that three couples could sue for wrongful death when their frozen embryos were destroyed in a accident at a storage facility.

“Unborn children are ‘children’ … without exception based on developmental stage, physical location, or any other ancillary characteristics,” Justice Jay Mitchell wrote in the ruling.

On Wednesday Republican presidential candidate Nikki Haley appeared to endorse the court’s decision saying she believed frozen embryos created through IVF were babies.

In an interview with NBC News she said: “Embryos, to me, are babies. When you talk about an embryo, you are talking about, to me, that’s a life. And so I do see where that’s coming from when they talk about that.”

But she added: “This is one where we need to be incredibly respectful and sensitive about it,” when asked about the potential implications.

The former South Carolina governor said she had her son after using artificial insemination, a different procedure which does not involve embryos in a lab.

The court ruling was greeted by widespread shock in Alabama, which has one of the nation’s strictest abortion laws, with patients confused about whether to proceed with IVF and others wondering whether to move their embryos.

Groups representing both IVF treatment providers and patients have raised alarm about the decision.

Barbara Collura, the CEO of Resolve: The National Infertility Association, told the Associated Press the ruling raises questions for providers and patients, including if they can freeze future embryos created during fertility treatment or if patients could ever donate or destroy unused embryos.

The Alabama Supreme Court decision partly hinged on anti-abortion language added to the Alabama Constitution in 2018, stating it is the “policy of this state to ensure the protection of the rights of the unborn child.”

Other fertility treatment providers in the state were continuing to provide IVF.

White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters on Tuesday: “This is exactly the type of chaos that we expected when the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade and paved the way for politicians to dictate some of the most personal decisions families can make.”

With agencies

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