Alabama legislature passes bill aiming to protect IVF after embryo ruling

<span>Fertility doctors from Alabama talk to state senator Donnie Chesteen about support for IVF legislation.</span><span>Photograph: Julie Bennett/Reuters</span>
Fertility doctors from Alabama talk to state senator Donnie Chesteen about support for IVF legislation.Photograph: Julie Bennett/Reuters

Alabama lawmakers moved to protect in vitro fertilization treatments in the state, days after a state judicial ruling on embryos led to clinics that offered the reproductive technique to suspend services.

Alabama’s house and senate both passed a measure Thursday intended to provide legal protections to IVF clinics, a temporary fix to problems created by a supreme court ruling that deemed frozen embryos “extrauterine children”.

Related: ‘We did it in cattle’: Alabama Republicans’ bungled response to IVF patients

The measure passed the lower chamber by 94 to 6 before also being passed by the state senate. The legislation is expected to be signed by the governor, which could make the provision law early next week. The bill, known as HB 237, was passed after three hours of debate. It came after a rally a day earlier where IVF patients, their families and doctors urged lawmakers to quickly resolve the issue.

The bill states “no action, suit, or criminal prosecution shall be brought or maintained against any individual or entity providing goods or services related to in vitro fertilization except for an act or omission that is both intentional and not arising from or related to IVF services”.

The bill also states that immunity would apply retroactively to “any act, omission, or course of services which are not the subject of litigation on the effective date of this act”.

The legislation’s sponsor, Republican representative Terri Collins, said it “would at least keep the clinics open and the families moving forward” while lawmakers reviewed whether additional action is needed.

But Republican lawmaker Mark Gidley said he was concerned that the measure was a “knee-jerk reaction”, and told the chamber that he did not want it to be used as a way of undermining Alabama’s status as a pro-life state, according to, and said it was important frozen embryos are recognized as human life.

Democrat Laura Hall asked Collins, the bill’s sponsor, why some IVF clinics in the state had remained open. “I know you’re coming with this Band-Aid today,” Hall said. “But there’s a big open wound out there that needs to be taken care of.”

Collins said she didn’t know why some had closed while others remained open.

Separately, Alabama house Democrats have proposed an amendment to the state constitution stating that human embryos held in storage outside a woman’s uterus “is not considered an unborn child or human being for any purpose under state law”.

The delicacy of the issue was illustrated during the debate when Tuscaloosa Democrat Chris England asked that if embryos are in fact children then the state, which has an abortion ban with no exceptions for rape, could have to take custody of them if the owner stops paying for the service.

“I’m not sure if you’re prepared to create the Alabama department of cryogenics, but that’s an issue,” England said, according to “And our temporary solution here is akin to turning a water hose on a burning tree in a forest that is on fire.”

Representative Arnold Mooney, a Republican, noted that “bio ethics issue a massive issue,” Mooney said. “God creates, not man.”

Related: US Senate attempt to protect IVF access blocked by Mississippi Republican

The new legislation comes after the Alabama supreme court ruled that three couples whose frozen embryos were destroyed in a storage accident could pursue wrongful death lawsuits for their “extrauterine children”.

The issue has travelled to the federal level, where a Republican senator blocked a proposed Democrat-sponsored bill in the US senate that would have protected access to IVF treatments.

The federal bill, which was introduced on Wednesday and would outlaw restrictions placed on IVF treatments, brought up questions in the thinking of anti-abortion, pro-IVF Republicans.

Florida Republican senator Marco Rubio said he supported IVF but also believes frozen embryos used in procedures are human lives. “That’s the challenge. That’s at the crux of the ethics of it,” Rubio said. “In the balance of things, how do our laws recognize the dignity of that human life and also understand what it enables is a life-creating procedure?”

But Mississippi Republican Cindy Hyde-Smith objected to the bill, named for its sponsor Senator Tammy Duckworth, arguing that it went too far since no state had banned IVF. “I support the ability for mothers and fathers to have total access to IVF and bringing new life into the world,” Hyde-Smith said in her objection. “I also believe human life should be protected.”