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Alabama Republicans Scramble in an Effort to Pass an I.V.F. Shield Law


Alabama lawmakers on Wednesday were racing to protect the routine practice of in vitro fertilization, moving to assuage families and fertility clinics alarmed by a recent State Supreme Court ruling that found that frozen embryos should be considered children.

The lawmakers’ urgency underscores the bind for Republicans, who have long maintained that life begins at conception — a tenet of their opposition to abortion — but must now reconcile that stance with the realities of how I.V.F. is practiced and the broad public support for it.

Republican leaders across the nation have been quick to express their support for I.V.F., with the party already struggling to counter the backlash over stringent anti-abortion laws it has backed in a critical election year.

Former President Donald J. Trump, the front-runner for the Republican nomination for president, called on the Alabama Legislature to protect I.V.F. treatment, while in Florida, lawmakers sidelined a bill this week that would allow civil lawsuits over the wrongful death of a fetus.

In Alabama, top Republicans are now coalescing around a proposal that would provide immunity to I.V.F. clinics, barring any intentional destruction of embryos outside the usual medical process.

Faced with an onslaught of anger from families pursuing the emotionally, financially and physically taxing in vitro process, lawmakers have set a fast timetable to pass the measure: It will be debated in two separate committee hearings on Wednesday, with the aim of having it signed into law within days.

The Alabama measure — introduced separately in the House and Senate — appears crafted to respond to widespread concerns about protecting access to reproductive medicine while acknowledging the accidental destruction of embryos that led to the ruling earlier this month.

Unlike proposals introduced by Democrats in the State Legislature, the measure does not address the question of whether frozen embryos should be considered unborn children, and instead focuses on providing civil and criminal immunity for clinics, hospitals and providers.

The court ruling, which currently applies only to the families who sued over the destruction of their embryos at a Mobile hospital in 2020, raised alarm nationally because of its explicit judgment that frozen embryos could be considered children. Many people expressed worry that they could be criminally prosecuted for discarding embryos.

The court ruling led at least three major fertility clinics in Alabama to halt I.V.F. treatments and left families across the state fearing that it would cut them off from the possibility of having children through I.V.F.

State Senator Tim Melson, who introduced the Republican proposal in the Senate, said the bill could achieve its intention of protecting I.V.F. without having to say whether a frozen embryo is a child.

“Some people feel that we don’t need to go down that road when we’re determining when life begins,” Senator Melson, who has worked as an anesthesiologist and clinical researcher, told reporters in Alabama.

The office of the attorney general, Steve Marshall, has also said it would not prosecute any couples seeking to have a child using I.V.F.

Some lawmakers were skeptical that the measure could do enough without confronting the question of personhood. Others have suggested that the question of whether a frozen embryo should be considered a child under Alabama law will require a constitutional amendment, which would require that voters weigh in separately from lawmakers.

“It looks like the plan is to go back in time, give temporary immunity, and try to forget that this ever happened,” Representative Chris England, a Democrat, wrote on social media. “Meanwhile, use the next year or so to try and figure out all of the messy issues associated with personhood and defining what life is and when it begins.”

“Hopefully, the temporary immunity will be enough cover for IVF clinics to reopen,” he added. “And by the way, pray that someone else with standing doesn’t sue us in the interim.”

Some in the Republican Party, particularly those who adhere closely to Christian theology that forbids fertility treatments, have supported the court’s ruling, seeing the end of a constitutional right to an abortion in 2022 as the beginning of a new battle over reproductive medicine.

“It is unacceptable the Alabama Legislature has advanced a bill that falls short of pro-life expectations and fails to respect the dignity of human life,” said Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America, a prominent anti-abortion political group, in a joint statement with the Alabama Policy Institute. “Alabama can do both: allow the continued practice of I.V.F. with care for those suffering from infertility, and respect life created through the I.V.F.”

David W. Chen contributed reporting.





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