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Alabama bill to protect IVF signed into law by governor

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(NEW YORK) — After two weeks of agonizing limbo for families in the midst of fertility treatment in Alabama, the state legislature on Wednesday night passed the final version of a bill to restore halted access to in-vitro fertilization in the state.

Republican Gov. Kay Ivey signed the bill quickly after the legislature passed it. Lawmakers passed similar legislation last week, kicking off the process, but the state’s process requires a series of votes.

The legislation comes weeks after the Alabama state Supreme Court issued a decision that embryos are children, causing three of the state’s largest IVF treatment providers to halt care for fear of wrongful death lawsuits when handling embryos.

The ruling led to immense public outcry and an organizing effort at the State House to correct the fallout for women and families using fertility treatment to have children.

The bill that passed on Wednesday will provide “civil and criminal immunity” to patients and clinics during IVF services, giving doctors, patients and manufacturers legal cover to proceed with the treatments.

Doctors at Alabama Fertility Specialists, one of the Birmingham clinics where IVF is paused, told ABC News they plan to resume treatments as soon as the bill becomes law. Some patients are already scheduled for treatments at the clinic later this week.

“We have kept our lab fully operational so that we’d be positioned to resume care as soon as possible,” Dr. Janet Bouknight, a fertility physician at Alabama Fertility Specialists, said in an interview Wednesday.

“It has been incredibly stressful for everyone involved. So I am hopeful that this allows that extra anxiety to settle down and focus again on the right treatment for the couple that sits in front of us,” she said.

But doctors, lawmakers and patients involved in the legislative process were clear-eyed that the bill passage Wednesday would not be the final step.

Much of the debate over the bill among lawmakers stemmed from whether the bill provides too broad of protection to clinics in cases of malpractice. They also debated whether the bill goes far enough to protect IVF treatment should more lawsuits come forward in the future, since it does not address the root of the Supreme Court’s decision — the ruling that embryos are children.

“I’ve trusted the legislators to get something in place that gets us back to care as quickly as possible. And I think that’s what has been done,” Bouknight said.

“I think there’s things that absolutely remain to be seen,” she added.

Republican lawmakers who authored the legislation acknowledged that the issue will require more discussion, but for now, it allows patients to continue their IVF treatment.

“We know that we’ll continue the work, and we’ll see what we have to do in the future,” Speaker of the House Nathaniel Ledbetter said in a press conference after the House passed the legislation.

Ivey, the governor, also emphasized the need to identify and pass longer-term protection for IVF.

“IVF is a complex issue, no doubt, and I anticipate there will be more work to come, but right now, I am confident that this legislation will provide the assurances our IVF clinics need and will lead them to resume services immediately,” Ivey said in a statement.

Corinn O’Brien, an IVF patient in Birmingham and the lead organizer behind a 300-person rally of patients and families at the State House last week, said she would continue to push for a longer-term fix, likely in the form of a constitutional amendment.

“We haven’t addressed the core question, which is are embryos outside of the uterus considered life or potential life, and you’re gonna have to come back to that,” O’Brien said.

“It’s our next battle. We’re focused today on what we have in front of us, but we’re not done here,” O’Brien said.

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