After Alabama’s IVF ruling, women ask: What now?

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Natalie Brumfield, 41, cried as she read about the Alabama Supreme Court’s ruling that embryos in test tubes should be considered children. The mother of seven children, including two babies conceived through in vitro fertilization, Ms. Brumfield felt that one of her most cherished beliefs as a Christian had been affirmed: Life, she said, begins when embryos form.

Emily Capilouto, 36, also cried at the ruling, but her tears were caused by desperation. She had struggled for years to have a child. She was now approaching the end of an IVF cycle, when one of the embryos she and her husband had produced would be transferred to her uterus. But on Wednesday she learned that her clinic at the University of Alabama at Birmingham Health System was stopping IVF treatments in response to her ruling.

“I don’t know what this means now,” Capilouto said Wednesday, minutes after learning that her dream of having a child would be put on hold indefinitely.

Questions like his are echoing across the country after the court’s ruling, which was handed down on February 16. The potential national implications remain unclear, but many women in Alabama are wondering how this new classification of embryos based on religious belief will affect them. affect their own paths to motherhood, a process that for many who seek IVF is already fraught with physical and emotional pain.

In interviews Wednesday, several women in Alabama who recently underwent in vitro fertilization, or were in the middle of treatment, said they felt abruptly stuck in limbo.

Some who recently had children through IVF said they were afraid to do anything with the extra embryos from the process, which are stored frozen in facilities across the state.

Others wondered if they would now have to pay a significant amount of money to keep their embryos in permanent storage, even those with chromosomal abnormalities that would cause miscarriage if transplanted. And they asked: Would disposing of unused embryos, or even moving them out of state, lead to criminal charges?

“To declare that embryos are children is to ignore what people go through when holding a baby,” said Veronica Wehby-Upchurch, 41, who has one son and two frozen embryos in storage. “An embryo on a plate is not even the starting line, and a pink line on a pregnancy test is not the finish line.”

Wehby-Upchurch, who lives in Homewood, Alabama, said she had half-joked with friends who also underwent IVF about whether she should now include her frozen embryos on her tax return and health insurance. Because of the court ruling, she said, “the questions are not unreasonable.”

Women who hold anti-abortion views, like Ms. Brumfield, said the ruling reflected the values ​​set forth in Proverbs 31-8: “Stand up for those who have no voice,” Ms. Brumfield said, adding that she was relieved to that the This decision would prevent the destruction of embryos.

The irony, some women said, is that the ruling, the consequences of which fertility clinics are still evaluating, has forced many couples to pause their IVF treatments and suspend their ticket to parenthood. The University of Alabama at Birmingham said in a statement Wednesday that it would pause procedures to “evaluate the possibility that our patients and our doctors could be criminally prosecuted or face punitive damages for following the standard of care for IVF treatments.” .

Another provider, Alabama Fertility Specialists in Mountain Brook, outside Birmingham, said Thursday it would not offer “new IVF treatments due to the legal risk to our clinic and our embryologists.”

Kayla Lee, 33, of Birmingham, said she spent nine years, $80,000 and dozens of hours in doctors’ offices trying to have a child. After several miscarriages, she was days away from finally having a viable embryo transferred. But on Tuesday night, Ms. Lee received a shocking call.

The doctor at Ms. Lee’s clinic at the University of Alabama at Birmingham said IVF treatments had to be suspended because of the ruling.

“I’m so sorry,” the doctor said to Ms. Lee, who held the phone to her cheek and cried, furious that a court decision intended to protect lives had caused her to lose the chance to create one, at least for now. .

“This is my life, this is my body,” Lee said, his voice breaking. And he added: “It’s not our fault that we can’t reproduce without help.”

Kate Choban Gilbreath, 37, who lives in San Juan, PR, said she had completed her in vitro treatments at the Mobile Infirmary Center for Reproductive Medicine. There she went where the plaintiffs in the Alabama court case (several couples who had undergone IVF) stored embryos until a hospital patient removed them from tanks of liquid nitrogen and dumped them on the ground, destroying them.

The majority opinion in the case said that a state statute that allows parents to sue for the wrongful death of a child also applies to “unborn children.”

The center announced Thursday that it would also suspend IVF treatments starting Saturday.

Ms. Gilbreath, who has an 8-month-old daughter, said she signed paperwork late last year granting the Mobile center permission to dispose of her remaining embryos, and now felt she had dodged the dilemma she faced. other couples face. .

Ms. Gilbreath and many of the other women interviewed for this article said that while they were angry about the court ruling, they also had enormous empathy for the couples involved in the case.

“It’s horrible that someone stumbled into a warehouse and destroyed their embryos,” said Julie Cohen, 38, of Mountain Brook. While she felt very attached to her own embryos, she added: “all my embryos have the potential to be babies, but they aren’t babies yet.”

Cohen said she was terrified by the ruling and the questions couples could soon face, about issues such as what rights they have to their embryos.

AshLeigh Dunham, a Birmingham attorney who specializes in cases involving assisted reproductive technology, recently gave birth to a daughter through IVF treatment. Ms. Dunham said that her clients who were interested in so-called embryo adoption (acquiring embryos from couples who produced them through IVF but did not use them) had called her this week in a panic, asking her questions to which no one knows the answers. . until yet. Will Alabama allow embryos to be shipped out of state? Will fertility clinics still want to operate in Alabama?

“We’re losing doctors, we’re losing clinics, we’re losing research,” Ms. Dunham said. “And those who can possibly afford it will go elsewhere.”

Still, Brumfield said his state was headed in the right direction. She saw her 4-year-old daughter Eloise as proof that all embryos were worth preserving. Her embryo had received a poor grade, she said, but it had still developed into a fetus and eventually a healthy boy, whom Ms. Brumfield called “my strongest baby that ever lived.”

Capilouto said she feared she would never have another chance to become a mother through in vitro fertilization in Alabama.

On Wednesday, when she discovered her treatment had been stopped, she fell to the floor in distraught and called her mother, who had undergone IVF in the 1980s and then decided to adopt Ms. Capilouto after the treatment didn’t work. .

“We will find a way,” his mother said over the phone. “I’m sorry it has to be so difficult.”

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