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Alabama university pauses IVF services after far-right court ruling

After the Alabama Supreme Court ruled that frozen embryos are actual people, families are struggling with the consequences. The politics matter, too.


It’s been nearly a week since the far-right majority on the Alabama Supreme Court ruled that frozen embryos are actual people, sparking widespread fears about the impact on families relying on in vitro fertilization (IVF) and related fertility treatments.

Before the court’s opinion was issued, the Medical Association of the State of Alabama filed a legal brief, warning of the potential consequences. “The potential detrimental impact on IVF treatment in Alabama cannot be overstated,” the brief explained, adding that the increased risk of legal exposure “might result in Alabama’s fertility clinics shutting down.”

The concerns were rooted in fact. NBC News reported:

Less than a week after the Alabama Supreme Court ruled that embryos created through in vitro fertilization are considered children, the University of Alabama at Birmingham suspended its IVF treatments so it could consider the legal repercussions of the decision.

In a statement to NBC News, a spokesperson for the state’s largest university said, “We are saddened that this will impact our patients’ attempt to have a baby through IVF, but we must evaluate the potential that our patients and our physicians could be prosecuted criminally or face punitive damages for following the standard of care for IVF treatments.”

A Washington Post report said that there is “widespread shock, anger and confusion” throughout Alabama in the aftermath of Friday’s state Supreme Court ruling. The Associated Press highlighted a woman in Auburn who turned to IVF after three miscarriages, who began the treatment process on the same day the court’s decision came down.

“When I saw this ruling, I got very angry and very hurt that it could potentially stop my cycle,” she told the AP. “People need to know this is affecting couples — real-life couples who are trying to start families, who are just trying to live the quote, unquote American dream.”

In theory, the Republican-dominated state legislature could try to intervene and pass legislation to protect IVF, but as Slate’s Mark Joseph Stern explained, the Alabama Supreme Court’s ruling is so radical, the justices suggested that IVF would be impermissible anyway, even if there were a new law.

Looking ahead, what matters most are the people affected by the court’s decision. This isn’t a philosophical abstraction: We’re talking about real people and real families. They’re going to suffer the consequences of the Alabama Supreme Court’s far-right vision.

But as is often the case, there’s a political dimension to the developments that might carry a related set of consequences. As Politico reported, “The long tail of the Dobbs ruling just keeps whipping Republicans with thorny political consequences.”

Already, Republicans are being forced to answer for a policy that is not only out of step with public opinion on IVF but has very personal and potentially devastating consequences for the one in six Americans who struggle with fertility issues. The decision not only risks alienating swing voters but highlights how the consequences of Dobbs continue to crush Republicans up and down the ballot.

Politico reached out to the GOP’s congressional campaign committees this week to ask about their reaction to the Alabama ruling. “No one wanted to talk about this,” the report added, “underscoring that Republicans are still struggling with this matter.”

If the party thinks this will quietly go away, I have a hunch it’s going to be disappointed.