Alabama rules frozen embryos are boys, raising questions about fertility care


The Alabama Supreme Court’s ruling that embryos frozen in test tubes should be considered children has sent shockwaves through the world of reproductive medicine, calling into question fertility care for expectant parents in the state and raising legal questions. complex with implications that extend far beyond Alabama. .

On Tuesday, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said the ruling would cause “exactly the kind of chaos we expected when the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade and paved the way for politicians to dictate some of the most personal decisions.” decisions that families can make.”

Speaking to reporters aboard Air Force One as President Biden traveled to California, Ms. Jean-Pierre reiterated the Biden administration’s call for Congress to codify the protections of Roe v. Wade in federal law.

“As a reminder, this is the same state whose attorney general threatened to prosecute people who help women travel out of state to seek the care they need,” she said, referring to Alabama, which began enforcing a complete ban on the abortion in June 2022.

The justices issued the ruling Friday in appeal cases brought by couples whose embryos were destroyed in 2020, when a hospital patient removed frozen embryos from tanks of liquid nitrogen in Mobile and dropped them on the ground.

Referencing anti-abortion language in the state constitution, the justices’ majority opinion said that an 1872 statute allowing parents to sue for the wrongful death of a minor applies to “unborn children,” with no exception for “extrauterine children”.

“Even before they are born, all human beings bear the image of God, and their lives cannot be destroyed without erasing his glory,” Chief Justice Tom Parker wrote in a concurring opinion.

Infertility specialists and legal experts said the ruling had potentially profound effects, which should be of concern to all Americans who may need to access reproductive services such as in vitro fertilization.

One in six families faces infertility, according to Barbara Collura, president and CEO of Resolve, which represents the interests of infertility patients.

“The state of a microscopic group of cells has been changed so that it is now a person or a child,” Ms Collura said. “They didn’t say in vitro fertilization is illegal and they didn’t say you can’t freeze embryos. It’s even worse: there is no roadmap.”

It has become standard medical protocol during in vitro fertilization to extract as many eggs as possible from a woman and then fertilize them to create embryos before freezing them. Generally, only one embryo at a time is transferred to the uterus to maximize the chances of successful implantation and a full-term pregnancy.

“But what if we can’t freeze them?” Ms. Collura asked. “Will we hold people criminally responsible because you can’t freeze a ‘person’? “This opens up a lot of questions.”

Reproductive medicine scientists also criticized the ruling, saying it was a “medically and scientifically unfounded decision.”

“The court held that a fertilized egg frozen in the freezer of a fertility clinic should be treated as the legal equivalent of an existing child or fetus gestating in a womb,” said Dr. Paula Amato, president of the American Society of Reproductive Medicine.

“Science and everyday common sense tell us that this is not the case,” he said. Even in the natural world, she added, several eggs are often fertilized before one successfully implants in the uterus and results in a pregnancy.

Dr. Amato predicted that young doctors would stop coming to Alabama to train or practice medicine after the ruling, and that doctors would close fertility clinics in the state if operating them meant risking being raised in civil or criminal cases. . charges.

“Modern fertility care will not be available to the people of Alabama,” Dr. Amato predicted.

Couples in the midst of grueling and expensive infertility treatments in Alabama said they were overwhelmed by questions and concerns, and some said they feared their providers would be forced to close their clinics.

Megan Legerski, 37, of Tuscaloosa, Alabama, who is currently undergoing infertility treatment, said she recently became pregnant after being implanted with an embryo created through in vitro fertilization, but miscarried after eight weeks.

She and her partner have three more frozen embryos they can implant, she said.

“To me, embryos are our best chance to have children and we are very hopeful,” Ms. Legerski said. “But for me, having three embryos in the freezer is not the same as having one that implants and becomes a pregnancy, and it is not the same as having a child.

“We have three embryos. “We don’t have three children.”

Katie Rogers contributed reporting from Washington.

Audio produced by Jack D’Isidoro.

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