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Fertility doctors in Alabama are struggling to figure out the future of IVF


Fertility doctors in Alabama are anxiously watching state lawmakers after Alabama's Supreme Court ruled frozen embryos have the same rights as children, prompting at least three clinics to pause IVF procedures. Now lawmakers in Birmingham say they're working on a bill to try to protect the fertility treatment. But as member station WBHM's Mary Scott Hodgin reports, patients are already losing access to care.

MARY SCOTT HODGIN, BYLINE: About a decade ago, Kristia Rumbley and her husband tried to get pregnant. But after two years of trying with no success, they turned to IVF. Rumbley says it was very stressful.

KRISTIA RUMBLEY: Like, for us, we knew we only had one shot at it, however many embryos we could get. We couldn't afford to do IVF again.

HODGIN: The procedure yielded several embryos. Two of them were transferred and successfully implanted. Rumbley became pregnant with twins. Her doctors in Alabama froze the remaining embryos. Years later, they transferred another one, which resulted in another pregnancy. Now Rumbley and her husband have two frozen embryos left. They aren't sure if they want to try for another pregnancy, donate the embryos or discard them.

RUMBLEY: But we are going to move our embryos right now until we can make a final decision.

HODGIN: She wants to move them out of state because of the recent ruling. Alabama's Supreme Court said people can sue for the wrongful death of a frozen embryo. Justices say a civil law from 1872 protects all children, including, quote, "extra-uterine children." The decision sparked national outcry, and it's raised lots of questions for Alabama patients and providers.

BETH MALIZIA: This feels very much like the door just got blown wide open, and we have no idea what's on the other side of it.

HODGIN: Dr. Beth Malizia is a reproductive endocrinologist and part owner of Alabama Fertility, a private clinic with offices across the state. The practice announced this week it would stop all new IVF procedures. Malizia says there is a lot of anxiety.

MALIZIA: Especially from the patient perspective. Just so devastating. I, you know, have patients who've been calling the last four days, and we are offering the best guidance we can day by day, but that is a constant evolving process.

HODGIN: Providers at the Center for Reproductive Medicine in Mobile and at the University of Alabama at Birmingham also announced this week they are pausing IVF procedures due to legal concern. Other clinics in the state are continuing without much interruption.

BRETT DAVENPORT: We're going to perform IVF, as we always have.

HODGIN: That's Dr. Brett Davenport. He practices at the Fertility Institute of North Alabama. Davenport says he doesn't think state laws were meant to be applied to frozen embryos. He's hopeful state legislators will act quickly to protect fertility care.

DAVENPORT: We are considered a pro-life state, but what's so ironic about that is there's not anything a lot more pro-life than a fertility practice trying to help couples who can't conceive conceive a baby.

HODGIN: Both Republican and Democratic state lawmakers, as well as Alabama's governor, have expressed support for access to IVF. But until the legislature agrees on legal protections, both providers and families in the state remain in a legal limbo.

For NPR News, I'm Mary Scott Hodgin in Birmingham. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Mary Scott Hodgin