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Alabama lawmakers begin debate over IVF protection bills

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(MONTGOMERY, Ala.) — Alabama lawmakers held a hearing Tuesday to begin debate over two bills that would add protections for in vitro fertilization treatment, allowing physicians to continue providing care a week after a state Supreme Court decision that said embryos should be considered children halted the procedure.

The first bill, both of which are Republican-led, would provide “civil and criminal immunity to persons providing services related to in vitro fertilization if the persons are following commonly accepted practices of care.” One of the sponsors of the bill said it would allow care that was permissible before the decision was issued to resume.

“My bill is, to the best of my ability, trying to say what you were doing a month ago you can keep doing — end of discussion,” state Sen. Larry Stutts, a Republican, said Wednesday in a Senate Health Committee hearing.

Earlier Wednesday, state Sen. Tim Melson, a co-sponsor of the bill, told a rally that gathered outside the State House that he would work to add protections for patients seeking care in addition to physicians.

Advocates — including IVF patients and physicians — gathered outside the State House, planning to speak with lawmakers about the issue amid intense public backlash over the Alabama Supreme Court’s decision.

Melson, who filed another bill that would provide “civil and criminal immunity” to anyone providing goods and services related to IVF, told the crowd of advocates that lawmakers are working hard to find a solution.

“Don’t worry, everybody in this building knows your issue, is concerned and wants to get you back on your normal, abnormal life of infertility,” Melson said.

“This isn’t about politics, this is about patients and we wanna make sure we take care of patients today,” Melson said. “We wanna help you create life.”

During the committee’s hearing, Melson was asked why the proposed bills do not address the root issue with the court decision — that ruling that embryos are children — and Melson responded that he “couldn’t find anybody comfortable making that decision on when a life begins.”

State Sen. Linda Coleman-Madison, a Democrat, pushed back, saying the bill avoids addressing the issue caused by the court ruling, which defined an embryo as a child.

“The same accident could happen again and if that definition is still there, it changes nothing,” Coleman-Madison said.

“If we don’t deal with the elephant in the room that got us to this place. We’re going to be back here. And basically you’re going to be in limbo,” Coleman-Madison said.

Alabama Republican House Rep. Terri Collins, who introduced an IVF protection bill in the state House, also told the crowd that lawmakers want to help them resume care.

“When you walk in these doors, you will have advocates that you’ll be speaking to. There’s no reason to be afraid. We wanna fix this as much as you do,” Collins said.

Since the high court issued its decision, three of the Alabama’s seven IVF providers have halted treatment, including the University of Alabama at Birmingham Hospital, the biggest hospital system in the state.

Physicians who spoke outside the State House called for a quick resolution, but one physician said the proposed legislation does not go far enough.

“We need to go further in these bills and we must protect patients. So we need to extend the liability of protections for patients,” Dr. Mamie McLean, a physician at Alabama Fertility Specialists.

One of McLean’s patients, who is currently seven weeks pregnant after she received an embryo transfer, told the crowd she had been trying for a second child for the last three years and was very upset over the decision, and said she’s concerned she may need further care if her pregnancy does not continue.

“This court ruling adds devastation to a process that is already so hard in so many ways,” Corinn O’Brien, the founder of the advocacy group Fight for Alabama Families Coalition, said.

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