Fertility Patients in Conservative States Taking Desperate Measures After Alabama’s Abortion Ban

Tara Harding, a nurse practitioner with five years of experience in assisting women in North Dakota to conceive, has made the decision to seek fertility treatment in Colorado for herself.

Dr. Emily, a 38-year-old who manages a women’s health clinic in Bismarck, specializes in fertility treatment. She is scheduled to undergo surgery in June to address her own health issue, endometriosis, which poses challenges for conception. Should natural conception not be possible after the surgery, she intends to pursue in vitro fertilization (IVF), albeit outside of her home state.

“I won’t take any chances with my embryos in the local area and be concerned about not being able to proceed with the treatment,” she expressed.

Harding’s decision to change location is not due to any alteration in North Dakota law. Instead, it stems from a recent ruling by the Alabama Supreme Court that granted frozen embryos the same legal rights as children, leading to a temporary suspension of IVF services in the state. While no other state has implemented such a ruling, Alabama has subsequently passed legislation to safeguard patients and providers from any legal repercussions. Nonetheless, fertility doctors in conservative states have reported that some of their patients are still being proactive in response to this development.

Dr. Nicole Ulrich, an IVF provider at Audubon Fertility in New Orleans, experienced a surge of patients seeking answers when abortion became illegal in the city following the overturn of Roe v Wade in 2022. This wave of inquiries is happening once more.

According to Ulrich, two patients have recently requested to fast-track their fertility treatment. In one case, the patient was contemplating in vitro fertilization (IVF) and decided to start the process earlier than anticipated, fearing the possibility of legislation that could hinder their ability to do so in the future. The other patient already had a child through IVF and had stored embryos in another state. They too chose to expedite the process of conceiving a second child, driven by similar concerns.

“I feel a mix of excitement and sadness for them as they embark on the next phase of their journey,” expressed Ulrich. She further shared her concern that they feel compelled to alter or expedite their plans due to political circumstances. Ulrich emphasized that healthcare providers often find themselves making decisions influenced by external factors, rather than solely focusing on the best medical course of action for their patients.”

At West Coast Fertility Centers in Fountain Valley, CA, there is a model of the female reproductive system and an embryo transfer catheter. This depicts the advanced medical technology and expertise available at the center.

Ulrich’s clinic currently stores embryos of patients outside of the state. In Louisiana, there is a law that prohibits the destruction of embryos outside of the uterus, which has resulted in many providers choosing to store them in a different jurisdiction. However, following the recent decision in Alabama, Ulrich has received requests from at least five patients to relocate their embryos from the clinic’s long-term storage facility in Texas. They fear a similar outcome may occur there.

Patients often turn to her for guidance on what actions to take.

“I often find myself wishing I had a crystal ball,” she expressed. “Although I don’t believe it will occur in this particular situation, I can only hope that rational thinking will ultimately triumph.”

The Alabama ruling, which arose from a lawsuit brought by two families who suffered the loss of frozen embryos due to a storage facility mishap, received widespread criticism and sparked bipartisan opposition. Even former President Donald Trump publicly voiced his support for access to in vitro fertilization (IVF) and urged Alabama lawmakers to protect it. In response, the state passed a law to safeguard providers and patients from liability. However, Republicans in the U.S. Senate were unable to replicate this on a national level, as they blocked a bill that aimed to establish a federal guarantee for this treatment.

According to NPR, while no other state currently has a similar court case looming, there are at least 14 states that are contemplating laws that would provide “personhood” status to fetuses. Among these states, two are evaluating bills that would establish personhood as starting at fertilization specifically for homicide and wrongful death cases. Additionally, six states are considering measures that would enable women to seek child support for their fetuses.

Lawmakers in Florida have temporarily halted discussions on a bill that would grant parents the right to file a lawsuit in cases involving the wrongful death of a fetus. This decision was made due to certain “questions and concerns” that emerged after the recent developments in Alabama. However, Dr. Preston Parry, a practicing physician in Mississippi who stores his patients’ embryos in Florida, mentioned that two of his patients have requested to relocate their embryos out of the state in the past week.

Dr. Samuel Brown, a Florida-based provider, shared that he had received numerous requests from patients to expedite their IVF treatment following the Alabama decision.

According to the expert, many patients who were not initially prepared to expand their family are now being prompted to take action due to the current situation. The urgency of the situation is leading them to make the decision to transfer embryos sooner rather than later, in order to avoid any potential difficulties in the future.

Republicans in the state House of Iowa have recently passed a bill that would impose a felony charge on individuals who cause the death of an “unborn person,” with no exceptions for in vitro fertilization (IVF). Although the bill still needs to be passed by the Senate and signed by the governor, IVF providers in the state have reported an influx of concerned patients reaching out for information.

According to Dr. Abigail Mancuso, a fertility doctor at the University of Iowa hospital system, since the bill passed the House, patients have been contacting all three of their locations seeking advice on whether they should relocate their embryos out of state. Dr. Amy Sparks, the director of the hospital system’s IVF labs, also noted an increase in the number of patients requesting to discontinue storage, which essentially means disposing of their embryos, in recent weeks.

Sparks expressed uncertainty about the hospital system’s ability to sustain IVF treatment if the Iowa bill were to be enacted.

“This job is already stressful, and we always strive to do our best,” she expressed. “However, if we cannot establish trust with our patients and there is a possibility of them facing felony charges, it makes one question the viability of continuing to provide services in the state.”

She expressed her surprise at the bill’s progress, considering the widespread criticism of a similar decision in Alabama. “It makes you question whether they are unaware of the news or simply turning a blind eye,” she remarked.

Amanda Zurawski, who is currently suing Texas over its abortion ban, is considering relocating her embryos to another state. She argues that despite the exemption in the law for medical emergencies, she was unable to terminate a dangerous pregnancy. In light of the recent Alabama decision, Zurawski expressed her concerns about the possibility of a similar ruling taking place in Texas. She stated in an interview with NBC News that she does not want her embryos to remain in a state where such a ruling could potentially occur.

North Dakota is not currently considering a fetal personhood bill. However, Harding is concerned about the potential adoption of a similar bill while she is in the middle of the IVF process. She and her partner are already preparing for the additional expenses and inconveniences of traveling out of state for each appointment.

Despite the challenges, she remains optimistic and believes that there is a positive aspect to the entire situation.

According to her, this incident had a unifying effect on the infertility community. She stated, “In my six years of involvement, I have never seen such a loud, productive, and rapid change take place.”

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