Medical Professionals, Republicans Face New Challenges Following Red State Supreme Court’s Embryo Ruling

Medical professionals and politicians are trying to navigate the potential fallout following the Alabama Supreme Court’s ruling Sunday that declared frozen embryos are legally considered human life, according to multiple reports.

The court determined that frozen embryos harvested at an in vitro fertilization (IVF) clinic were considered “children” under the Wrongful Death of a Minor Act after a couple sued over several embryos that were allegedly destroyed by a hospital patient in 2021. As a result of the landmark ruling, multiple fertility clinics have shut down all IVF services due to concerns about potential legal ramifications and political analysts have claimed the decision, touted by pro-life activists, may cost Republicans in the 2024 election.

Nearly 97,000 women get IVF procedures done every year in the United States, but for many in Alabama, the treatment has come to a grinding halt.

The University of Alabama at Birmingham announced Wednesday that it had paused its IVF clinic immediately, claiming that the hospital needed to evaluate the possibility that “patients and our physicians could be prosecuted criminally or face punitive damages.” Another clinic, Alabama Fertility, also shut down its IVF services the same day and canceled patients’ appointments for the foreseeable future, according to The Washington Post.

Andrew J. Harper, the medical director at Huntsville Reproductive Medicine, told the Post that the clinic had been set to dispose of multiple “cohorts” of embryos that had been abandoned, some for nearly two decades, when the court’s ruling was handed down. Harper said that the clinic is considering sending frozen embryos to “patient-friendly states” so patients can decide whether or not to discard them without legal risk.

Aaron Kemper, an attorney litigating a case regarding Kentucky’s abortion ban and its effect on IVF treatments, told Politico that currently, the court’s decision does not outlaw discarding nonviable or excess embryos but noted that it was not hard to understand the concern from medical professionals.

“This was about accidental destruction of embryos,” Kemper said. “But it’s not a large leap of logic to think that someone could also be prosecuted for purposeful destruction.”

The situation has also put some pro-life Republicans between a rock and a hard place.

Sen. Tommy Tuberville of Alabama, who is staunchly pro-life, was asked what he would tell women in the state who can no longer seek IVF treatments, to which he replied that the situation is a “hard one” but that he also believes embryos are human life, according to The Hill.

“Again, you really want people to have that opportunity,” Tuberville said. “We need more kids.”

Former United Nations Ambassador and presidential candidate Nikki Haley said in an interview with NBC News Wednesday that “Embryos, to me, are babies.” On Thursday, Haley addressed concerns about women being unable to get IVF treatments, saying “It is very important that women like me have the ability to have that blessing of a baby,” according to NPR.

“But you also want to treat those embryos with respect – whoever is holding them – and make sure that there’s a clear indication of what is expected from the parents who provide it, and what’s expected from the provider that holds them,” Haley said.

Political analysts claimed that the decision may come back to haunt the GOP in the upcoming 2024 election in November, according to Politico. Stan Barnes, a political consultant and former Republican state senator in Arizona, said that the ruling may give Republicans “another hot potato” to handle in an already packed election cycle.

“It certainly intersects, badly, with general election politics for Republicans,” Barns said. “When a state, any state, takes an aggressive action on this particular topic, people are once again made aware of it, and many think: ‘Maybe I can’t support a Republican in the general election.’”

Republicans have struggled to push a unified message on pro-life issues in recent months, costing them several major abortion ballot elections. Democrats, meanwhile, have already begun to capitalize on the issue, with some strategists saying that the party should make the ruling an issue for Republicans and warn voters if the GOP retains or expands their majorities in office it will threaten access to abortion and contraceptives, according to the Post.

“They are coming for contraception. They are coming for IVF. They are coming for women. And they will lose when voters have their say,” Democratic Gov. J.B. Pritzker of Illinois said in an emailed statement to The Post.

Kate Anderson on February 22, 2024

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