Embryo shipping services to halt business in Alabama after IVF ruling

<span>While the supreme court decision recognized embryos as ‘children’, it did not specify how existing embryos should be handled.</span><span>Photograph: Science Photo Library/ZEPHYR/Getty Images</span>
While the supreme court decision recognized embryos as ‘children’, it did not specify how existing embryos should be handled.Photograph: Science Photo Library/ZEPHYR/Getty Images

Some nationwide embryo shipping services have indicated that they will stop transporting embryos to and from Alabama following the state’s recent supreme court decision ruling frozen embryos are “children”, according to a major infertility association.

In the week since the ruling, IVF clinics, auxiliary services and patients have grappled with whether they are able to legally operate. While the court’s decision recognized embryos as “children”, it did not specify how existing embryos should be handled.

Related: Alabama’s supreme court ruled embryos are ‘extrauterine children’. IVF patients are worried

At least three fertility clinics in the state have subsequently paused services rather than risk any liability flowing from the ruling, which found the state’s wrongful death statute applies to “all unborn children, regardless of their location”.

Embryos can fail to develop at any stage of IVF process – for example after they are first formed following the fertilization of an egg with sperm or when they are thawed ahead of implantation into the womb – which makes the ruling that they are “children” even more fraught for doctors.

“Our legal team is telling us that, as the ruling is written, that modern fertility treatments cannot continue in the state of Alabama because of the risk to physicians and embryologists, given that embryos are now considered children,” a doctor told the Guardian earlier this week.

On Friday afternoon, the Alabama attorney general, Steve Marshall, said that he did not intend to prosecute IVF doctors or patients. But the ruling still sets precedent. Providers could be held liable under civil law, and future attorneys general after Marshall’s tenure could ultimately decide to turn heel and prosecute both IVF doctors and patients.

Some patients have shared on social media that they are trying to figure out if and how they can move their embryos out of state to continue treatment – a prospect made more complicated if shipping services refuse to work in the state.

“Since the court’s ruling, doctors have been forced to deliver devastating news to their patients, who dream of becoming parents and whose plans are on hold indefinitely, all because of the court’s disregard for science,” said Barbara Collura, president and CEO of Resolve: the National Infertility Association, in a statement. “And now, this slight window of hope for Alabamans currently undergoing IVF to continue their family-building treatment in other states just slammed shut. Thousands of Alabamans trying to build their families are being held hostage by this destructive ruling.”

Storing frozen embryos can cost more than several hundred dollars a year. If patients are forced to continue storing their embryos while also not being able to use or discard them, the already pricey IVF treatment process will indefinitely become even more expensive.

None of the three clinics in the state that have paused treatment immediately responded to a request for comment.