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Alabama patients worry about implications of state's recent IVF law

SCOTT DETROW, HOST:

After the Alabama Supreme Court ruled that fertilized embryos are considered children, the state passed a law intended to protect in vitro fertilization procedures, and it did so by giving immunity from prosecution to IVF providers. For many, the treatments were already difficult to access. And as the Gulf States Newsroom's Drew Hawkins reports, despite the legal protections, some IVF patients are still worried whether they'll hold.

DREW HAWKINS, BYLINE: Gabbie Price is off of work on Fridays, so that means it's laundry day.

(SOUNDBITE OF WASHING MACHINE RUMBLING)

HAWKINS: She and her husband live in a small camper parked on a family member's land in rural Moody, Ala. They both come from big families, and it's been their dream to have one of their own someday. But Price found out she has a condition that could crush that dream.

GABBIE PRICE: The doctor's exact words to me were, you are going to have a really difficult time conceiving even with medical intervention.

HAWKINS: So they sold their home and moved into this camper to pay for fertility treatments. And they've tried almost everything.

PRICE: The ovulation test, you know, home remedies, medicated cycles, two IUIs, seed cycling and these types of things.

HAWKINS: Finally, after almost two years, Price got pregnant. But just a month later, she had a miscarriage. She says it was really hard. But then she met with her doctor in January, who said IVF may be their best shot. And even though it would cost more than $15,000, Price decided to go for it. They would do whatever it takes. A month later, the Alabama Supreme Court ruled that fertilized embryos are considered children, and fertility clinics across the state, including hers, shut down IVF treatments.

PRICE: I actually ran into my doctor at the state House. We all went to the state House to talk to our senators, our representatives.

HAWKINS: Alabama has since passed a law that provides immunity from prosecution to IVF providers, and many clinics have resumed treatments. But the underlying court ruling - that frozen embryos have the same rights as a person, what's known as personhood - wasn't directly addressed. Because of that, Price says she's unsure of what will happen with any embryos she creates.

PRICE: It is a little bit terrifying for me. And even a little bit further than when discussing IVF is that there are a lot of us - patients, doctors alike - that are really worried about how far this is going to go.

HAWKINS: Advocates say she's right to be worried.

MICHELLE COLON: Personhood comes with tremendous consequences.

HAWKINS: Michelle Colon is with SHERO Mississippi, a reproductive justice organization. She says for years, she and others have been saying that IVF would be affected by anti-abortion legislation like the one passed in Alabama in 2018.

COLON: Our side was the one that brought up and said, wait a minute. This particular agenda, so to speak, or strategy has unintended consequences.

HAWKINS: When Roe v. Wade was the law of the land, conservative lawmakers, like in Alabama, often passed these kinds of personhood laws that were more symbolic than serious. They weren't thinking they could affect IVF treatment, says former Democratic U.S. Senator Doug Jones.

DOUG JONES: I think most of them really believe that. It really shows you how dumb some of these legislators are.

HAWKINS: He does not mince words when it comes to talking about the most conservative Republicans in Alabama.

JONES: They want to send a political message that is the right political message for them in the moment, and they don't have any thought to the potential consequences of what would happen.

HAWKINS: And with the Alabama Supreme Court ruling, they found themselves having to pass a law that would fix these unintended consequences. But they couldn't agree on whether a frozen embryo is a child. Here's Republican Representative Mark Gidley.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MARK GIDLEY: It's a life. It's taking on a life. It's growing. It's living. It's a living being. It just needs to be implanted so it can continue to grow.

HAWKINS: With the Supreme Court ruling still unaddressed in Alabama, Jones says he's skeptical about whether the IVF protection law will be enough.

JONES: I'm not sure that the legislation that was passed to try to fix the IVF issue is anything more than a Band-Aid that somebody is going to rip off at some point in a lawsuit.

HAWKINS: That worry about whether a future lawsuit could again derail IVF in Alabama is something patients like Gabbie Price have to think about when they consider starting a family using the expensive treatments. For NPR News, I'm Drew Hawkins.

(SOUNDBITE OF BILLIE EILISH SONG, "YOUR POWER") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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