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‘Outrageous and unacceptable’: Biden and Harris decry Alabama court ruling on IVF

<span>Kamala Harris speaks about reproductive rights in Grand Rapids, Michigan, on 22 February 2024.</span><span>Photograph: Rebecca Particka/AP</span>
Kamala Harris speaks about reproductive rights in Grand Rapids, Michigan, on 22 February 2024.Photograph: Rebecca Particka/AP

The decision of the Alabama supreme court on in vitro fertilization, granting legal protections to frozen fertilized eggs, drew fire from President Joe Biden and other Democratic leaders on Thursday, laying responsibility for the decision on the US supreme court’s ruling overturning Roe v Wade in 2022.

“A court in Alabama put access to some fertility treatments at risk for families who are desperately trying to get pregnant,” Biden said in prepared remarks on Thursday. “The disregard for women’s ability to make these decisions for themselves and their families is outrageous and unacceptable.”

Related: Second Alabama provider stops IVF care after court deems embryos ‘children’

Two clinics in Alabama have suspended in vitro fertilization services as state leaders and clinicians contemplate the legal corollaries to the ruling.

Intoning the Bible, the Alabama supreme court justice Tom Parker ruled that embryos are “extrauterine children” and when “killed” subject their custodians to the state’s Wrongful Death of a Minor law.

Biden said he and the vice-president, Kamala Harris, are “fighting for the freedom of women, for families and for doctors who care for these women”, pledging to restore protections previously afforded under Roe v Wade.

Harris has been on a multistate Fight for Reproductive Freedoms tour since December. She took it to Grand Rapids, Michigan, today, 12 days before the state’s presidential primary. Michigan added protections for abortion to its state constitution with a ballot measure last year.

Harris met with the Michigan governor, Gretchen Whitmer, and Senator Debbie Stabenow to discuss abortion rights.

Harris described the ruling as an attack on people trying to start families. “On the one hand, proponents are saying an individual doesn’t have a right to end an unwanted pregnancy, and on the other hand, the individual does not have a right to start a family,” she said. “And the hypocrisy abounds on this issue when you also consider that in the top 10 states with maternal mortality, there are abortion bans.”

One of those states is South Carolina, which had a maternal mortality rate of 32.7 out of every 100,000 live births between 2018 and 2021, the eighth-highest in the country, according to data compiled by KFF. In comparison, the national rate was 23.5 over the same period.

The former South Carolina governor Nikki Haley faces Donald Trump in the South Carolina primary on Saturday. Trailing badly, Haley appeared at first to embrace the logic of the Alabama ruling. “Embryos, to me, are babies,” Haley told NBC News in an interview yesterday. “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.”

Haley has been trying to walk a thin rhetorical line on abortion as she campaigns, calling for “respect” while describing herself as pro-choice and avoiding policy specifics. It’s a contrast with Georgia’s governor, Brian Kemp, who expressed comfort with in vitro fertilization at a Politico summit Thursday.

While saying he would prefer to avoid the Alabama policy debate, Kemp said: “A lot of people out there in this country … wouldn’t have children if it weren’t for that.” Republican governors Chris Sununu of New Hampshire and Bill Lee of Tennessee also expressed support for in vitro fertilization, with Sununu describing the ruling as “scary”.

Later on Wednesday, Haley began walking back her earlier comments, telling CNN: “I didn’t say that I agreed with the Alabama ruling.” This morning, Haley was asked by Newsmax whether women should feel guilty of doing something wrong if they have not implanted all of the embryos they may have developed through the IVF process – one requirement of the Alabama ruling.

“Not at all,” she replied. “This is where we really need to have respect and humanity,” Haley added, noting that she had required medical assistance to conceive.

As states consider how to navigate the post-Roe environment, she said they should “be very careful how you do this, because, number one, you don’t want to take those fertility treatments away from women. It is very important that women like me have the ability to have that blessing of a baby.”