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Ala. court order defining frozen embryos as children has fertility doctors scrambling

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

Thousands of people in Alabama have lost access to a crucial fertility procedure. The state's largest health care provider, the University of Alabama at Birmingham Hospital System, joined other clinics in pausing IVF services, this after the state's highest court ruled that embryos have the same rights as children. So what does this mean for people trying to start a family in Alabama, and can they expect any help from lawmakers? Barbara Collura is the president and CEO of RESOLVE: The National Infertility Association. Barbara, so where does this ruling leave people who are already undergoing IVF or maybe planning to start?

BARBARA COLLURA: Good morning. Well, in the state of Alabama, they cannot get care right now. If they were in the midst of an IVF cycle - maybe they had started their medications, maybe they even had had a retrieval of their eggs - they cannot get care right now. So we are waiting to see what the state legislature does next. And, you know, it's a very risky situation for these IVF centers in Alabama right now. And so we completely understand why they went ahead and paused. In fact, we predicted that earlier in the week. But it leaves many, many people in a very, very difficult situation who are in the midst of, quite honestly, just trying to have a baby.

MARTÍNEZ: Can embryos maybe be moved out of state somewhere else, maybe?

COLLURA: Theoretically, yes. Embryos are shipped across the country from clinic to clinic every day. But right now, in Alabama, we are not seeing any embryos moving. The clinics are not allowing patients to move them at this time.

MARTÍNEZ: All right. Now, this case began with three couples who wanted to sue for wrongful death. A health care worker suffered a burn and then dropped and destroyed their frozen embryos. Barbara, we wouldn't freeze a person. But if an embryo is a person, is it a legitimate question to ask, can we freeze that person?

COLLURA: Yeah, well, I've been asking that all week.

MARTÍNEZ: OK.

COLLURA: And I don't think in this country you can freeze a child or you can freeze a person. I don't mean to sound flippant, but that is the situation that we find ourselves in. You know, freezing embryos is a very standard part of the IVF process, and if we are now in a situation where that is a child and - then we can't freeze. We will not be able to freeze. So the question is a little bit strange because they're saying a frozen embryo is a person. But at the end of the day, I don't think we can freeze a person even to begin with.

MARTÍNEZ: Right. Well, I felt strange asking it, Barbara.

COLLURA: Yeah, I'm sure you did.

MARTÍNEZ: Yeah. This is the first ruling of its kind from a state Supreme Court. Do you expect other states to follow with a similar ruling or maybe the exact same ruling?

COLLURA: Well, we have seen legislative attempts at defining a fertilized egg as a person for many years in many states, so bills that have wound their way through state legislatures and, you know, many of them attempting to restrict access to abortion. But in the wording of how they've written those bills, they're actually declaring a fertilized egg a person and would have called into question all the things that we're talking about right now. But none of those bills passed. And these are in multiple states across the country. So I don't know that I'll necessarily see a Supreme Court decision like this, but we are very fearful that we're going to see state legislatures now go back and revisit those bills and perhaps even look at their own code in the Alabama - the code that Alabama is using is something called wrongful death of a child act. And we are confident that there are similar statutes in other states. And we are anticipating that state legislators are going to go back in and refine those and make it clear that, yes, a fertilized egg is a person and would fall under this statute. So we're very, very concerned.

MARTÍNEZ: This ruling has gotten bipartisan pushback, ranging from Vice President Kamala Harris to Florida GOP Congressman Matt Gaetz, who said something is totally wrong. The Alabama law needs to change. What are the chances that all of this - all this attention that it's getting - will force some kind of change?

COLLURA: Well, it's astounding to me, as somebody who's been working on these issues for 20 years, to all of a sudden see presidential candidates and the White House talking about something that we've been fearful of for many years. I believe this will create a lot of awareness. And people will start asking themselves - you know, I've seen all these political cartoons all week talking about the ridiculousness of an embryo being a person - everything from can I claim them on my taxes to I get to - do I get to ride in the HOV lane? I mean, really, that is where we're at. And so I think this is going to really make people pause and think about this. And I'm hopeful that we end up on the right side of letting people build their families and not on the wrong side.

MARTÍNEZ: And what would you say to, say, an elected official who claims to be pro-life, pro-family, who's also maybe OK with letting the ruling stand as is with no changes to it?

COLLURA: I don't know how you can be pro-family and tell people that you can't have a child. I just - I can't reconcile that. And that's what you're doing. You're telling people in the United States that certain people can have kids and certain people can't.

MARTÍNEZ: Barbara Collura is president and CEO of the National Infertility Association, RESOLVED. Barbara, thanks a lot for your time.

COLLURA: Thank you so much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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