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Alabama’s largest hospital pauses IVF procedures after court rules embryos are ‘children’

Alabama’s largest hospital pauses IVF procedures after court rules embryos are ‘children’

Alabama’s largest hospital is pausing in vitro fertilization (IVF) treatment over fears it could face criminal charges following a ruling by the state’s Supreme Court that defined frozen embryos as unborn children.

The University of Alabama at Birmingham health system said that it had stopped the procedures  “as it evaluates the Alabama Supreme Court’s decision that a cryopreserved embryo is a human being.”

“We are saddened that this will impact our patients’ attempt to have a baby through IVF, but we must evaluate the potential that our patients and our physicians could be prosecuted criminally or face punitive damages for following the standard of care for IVF treatments,” the hospital said in a statement.

The Alabama Supreme Court ruled last week that frozen embryos have the same status as children in wrongful death lawsuits.

The ruling, which could have profound consequences for both patients seeking fertility care and the medical professionals that provide it, relates to a 2020 case in which a patient destroyed several embryos at an IVF clinic.

Alabama Justice Jay Mitchell wrote in the majority ruling last week that an 1872 state law allowing parents to sue over the death of a minor child also applied to embryos. That opened the door for the owners of the embryos to sue the clinic for wrongful death.

“Unborn children are ‘children’ ... without exception based on developmental stage, physical location, or any other ancillary characteristics,” Justice Michell wrote.

The American Society of Reproductive Medicine (ASRM) described the ruling as a “medically and scientifically unfounded decision.”

“The court held that a fertilized frozen egg in a fertility clinic freezer should be treated as the legal equivalent of an existent child or a fetus gestating in a womb,” Dr Paula Amato, president of ASRM, said in a statement. “The eight members of the court who approved this decision may view these things as the same, but science and everyday common sense tell us they are not.”

Campaigners have warned that fertility treatment may now be under threat not just in Alabama, but across the country, as anti-abortion groups take up the cause of classifying embryos as unborn children.

White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre condemned the court’s decision on Tuesday, connecting it to the anti-abortion movement’s long campaign to overturn Roe v Wade.

“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,” she told reporters travelling with President Joe Biden.

On Wednesday, Vice President Kamala Harris called the decision “outrageous” and warned that it is “already robbing women of the freedom to decide when and how to build a family.”