Alabama IVF patients describe heartbreak, anger after ruling

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (AP) — Tory Beasley had dreamed of having three kids, and she and her husband turned to IVF after struggling with infertility. She was scheduled for an embryo transfer next week at an Alabama fertility clinic in the hopes of having a dreamed-of second child.

The mental health therapist was in her doctor's office when she got the news that the clinic was pausing IVF treatments. The decision came in the wake of an Alabama Supreme Court ruling that called into question the future of some fertility treatments in the state.

“It was a gut punch. It is literally a gut punch," Beasley said Tuesday. She said the medicine delivered to her to help prepare her body is just sitting on her floor.

In vitro fertilization patients in Alabama described postponed pregnancies, canceled appointments and the uncertainty surrounding if they will be able to access frozen embryos already created in the hopes of growing their families. While state legislators have promised to try to craft a legislative solution, patients said they are left waiting.

Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra visited Alabama to lead a roundtable discussion with a group of IVF patients on Tuesday in Birmingham. Becerra said the decision has had heart-wrenching consequences, and it underscored the importance of protections for reproductive care that were lost when Roe v Wade was overturned.

“When Roe went down and took away health care rights and access, it did it for more than just abortion care,” Becerra said.

Alabama justices this month said three couples who had frozen embryos destroyed in an accident at a storage facility could pursue wrongful death lawsuits for their “extrauterine children.”

The ruling, treating an embryo the same as a child or gestating fetus under the wrongful death statute, raised concerns about civil liabilities for clinics. It had an immediate chilling effect on the availability of IVF in the Deep South state. Three of the largest clinics in the state swiftly announced a pause on IVF services.

“This affects real people. This affects real families,” Dr. Rachel Charles, an internal medicine physician and IVF patient, said.

Charles said she was unsure if she would ever be able to have children because of her lupus diagnosis and the medication that she takes. She and her husband turned to IVF and went through an egg retrieval. After medical complications and a heavy physical and emotional toll, they postponed an embryo transfer from February until late March or April. Then they were told their clinic was ceasing IVF.

“While we're not guaranteed that the embryo that we had would have actually worked, right now we're in limbo,” Charles said.

“We’re sitting here saying ‘Are we going to be able to pursue trying to make a family? Are we going to stay her in Alabama if this does not change?' ”

Elizabeth Goldman, one of the few women to give birth after a uterus transplant, said her hope had always been to gear up for another round of IVF this spring in the hopes of having a second child before doctors have to remove her transplanted uterus.

“I'm basically at a standstill. My whole entire journey revolved around IVF and being able to do another embryo transfer,” Goldman said.

Alabama lawmakers said they are grasping for a possible solution. Republican Gov. Kay Ivey said Tuesday that she anticipates having a “bill on my desk very shortly while ensuring that the Legislature has time to get this right.”

“In Alabama, as I said last week, we work to foster a culture of life and that includes IVF. The Legislature is diligently working on addressing this issue as we speak,” Ivey said Tuesday.

Alabama lawmakers have proposed separate proposals in Montgomery. Republican Sen. Tim Melson, a doctor, introduced legislation Tuesday that would largely provide civil and criminal immunity for IVF services. House Minority Leader Anthony Daniels proposed a bill saying that a fertilized human egg or human embryo outside of a uterus “is not considered an unborn child or human being for any purpose under state law.”

The court decision has created great uncertainty for physicians who are trying to figure out how they can move forward, a spokesman for a group representing providers said.

"The easiest thing to do is to return to what the state of the law was prior to (the ruling) which is a clear legal distinction between an in vitro fertilized egg and a fetus developing in a woman's womb," Sean Tipton, chief advocacy and policy officer at the American Society for Reproductive Medicine.

Kim Chandler, The Associated Press