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Experts are skeptical of an Alabama bill to protect IVF clinics from prosecution

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Alabama lawmakers are set to pass a bill that protects clinics that offer in vitro fertilization from prosecution. It comes after Alabama's Supreme Court ruled that frozen embryos could be considered children, prompting IVF clinics in the state to stop offering services. The proposed legislation is seen, though, as a quick fix that does not address the ruling. Drew Hawkins of the Gulf States Newsroom has this report.

DREW HAWKINS, BYLINE: Alabama state lawmakers have been scrambling to pass a bill that would grant criminal and civil immunity to IVF providers. The goal is to quickly restore full fertility services for families seeking treatments. Republican Terri Collins proposed the measure in the statehouse.

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TERRI COLLINS: This right now that we have before us has been agreed upon and will help us achieve our goal.

HAWKINS: Before the court's ruling, hardly any of the lawmakers had considered that Alabama state law could jeopardize IVF treatments. Here's Republican Jim Carns.

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JIM CARNS: And I think we want to do and fix this problem that probably none of us knew about two weeks ago, which I didn't.

COLLINS: Exactly.

CARNS: And suddenly it becomes the biggest problem facing the state at the moment.

HAWKINS: And it's reverberated nationwide. It's been discussed in Congress and it's become an issue in the presidential race. Republicans are trying to reckon anti-abortion policies with support for IVF. The question of when life begins looms large over this debate for Republican state Representative Mark Gidley.

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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: Alabama Democrats introduced a bill that makes it clear that an embryo outside the womb would not be considered a human child, but they're in the minority in the legislature. And they say just protecting providers from lawsuits fails to protect patients. Here's Democratic Representative Juandalynn Givan.

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JUANDALYNN GIVAN: You are now saying that that mother who may have had to have an IVF procedure, the doctor has committed some act using a best practice and he's immune from prosecution.

HAWKINS: IVF clinics are not saying yet whether the legislation will be enough, and legal experts warn that the future of IVF is uncertain.

MEREDITH RENDER: So they've done this stopgap immunity, but it doesn't really give us a hint of how they will solve the problem.

HAWKINS: Meredith Render is a professor at the University of Alabama School of Law.

RENDER: What does it mean to say that a frozen embryo is a child in terms of the responsibility for providers and for patients?

HAWKINS: Some lawmakers say they will eventually debate what constitutes a child in Alabama and whether viability of an embryo plays a role.

For NPR News, I'm Drew Hawkins.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Drew Hawkins