News & Commentary

Alabama governor signs IVF bill pro-life groups call ‘ill-considered’ and ‘unjust’

(OSV News) — Alabama’s Republican Gov. Kay Ivey March 6 signed into law a bill passed by lawmakers to grant legal protection to in vitro fertilization clinics after a ruling by that state’s Supreme Court found that frozen embryos qualify as children under the state law’s wrongful death law.

IVF is a form of fertility treatment opposed by the Catholic Church on the grounds that it often involves the destruction of human embryos, among other concerns.

Ivey said in a statement, “The overwhelming support of SB159 from the Alabama Legislature proves what we have been saying: Alabama works to foster a culture of life, and that certainly includes IVF.”

“I am pleased to sign this important, short-term measure into law so that couples in Alabama hoping and praying to be parents can grow their families through IVF,” Ivey said.

The ruling by the Alabama Supreme Court found that embryos are children under the terms of the state’s Wrongful Death of a Minor Act, a statute that allows parents of a deceased child to recover punitive damages for their child’s death.

That ruling came in response to appeals brought by couples whose embryos were destroyed in 2020, when their frozen embryos were improperly removed from storage equipment, which the couples argued constituted a wrongful death. The judges found that under the law, Alabama parents’ ability to sue over the wrongful death of a minor child applies to unborn children, without an exception for “extrauterine children.”

While the ruling itself was limited in scope, it was met with backlash, as it created complex legal questions about what it entailed for IVF treatments in the state. Multiple IVF providers in the state paused treatments after it was issued.

An overwhelming majority of Americans said they believe IVF should be legal, according to a March 3 poll by CBS News/YouGov, which found 86% of Americans support keeping IVF legal, while just 14% said it should not be legal.

Republican lawmakers and candidates for office, most notably former President Donald Trump, front-runner for the GOP nomination in 2024, sought to distance themselves from the Alabama Supreme Court’s ruling.

Trump said in a Feb. 23 statement, “We want to make it easier for mothers and fathers to have babies, not harder! That includes supporting the availability of fertility treatments like IVF in every State in America.”

Trump added in his statement that he “strongly support the availability of IVF for couples who are trying to have a precious baby,” and urged Alabama lawmakers “to act quickly to find an immediate solution to preserve the availability of IVF in Alabama.”

Ivey said in her statement, “Make no mistake about it, though, in the coming days, weeks and months, particularly as we are in the heat of a national election, we will hear a lot of political rhetoric around IVF. Let me say clearly: Alabama supports growing families through IVF.”

Some pro-life groups, including representatives for Live Action and Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America, wrote in a letter to Ivey that “Alabama must not rush to enact ill-considered legislation.”

“We urge you to veto this legislation as a rash reaction to a troubling situation,” the letter said. “While we understand and share the legislators’ concern for families struggling with infertility, this unjust measure will ultimately harm these families and jeopardize the lives of precious children. Any political determination that takes up the question of how we treat and protect human lives — no matter how young — must resist an ideology that treats human beings as expendable commodities.”

The 1987 document from the Congregation (now Dicastery) for the Doctrine of the Faith known as “Donum Vitae” or “The Gift of Life,” states the church opposes IVF and related practices, including gestational surrogacy, in part because “the connection between in vitro fertilization and the voluntary destruction of human embryos occurs too often.”

Issued by then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, the future Pope Benedict XVI, the teaching named the “right to life and physical integrity from the moment of conception until death” and “the child’s right to be conceived, brought into the world and brought up by his parents” as behind the church’s moral objections to those practices.

“The political authority consequently cannot give approval to the calling of human beings into existence through procedures which would expose them to those very grave risks noted previously,” the documents states.

According to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, approximately 238,126 patients underwent IVF treatment in 2021, resulting in 112,088 clinical pregnancies and 91,906 live births.

By Kate Scanlon | OSV News