Alabama IVF pause sparks concern for Louisiana patients, fertility clinics

Alabama IVF pause sparks concern for Louisiana patients, fertility clinics
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The phones at Audubon Fertility in New Orleans started ringing more than usual last Thursday.

It was the day after the University of Alabama at Birmingham’s health system announced a pause to in vitro fertilization following an Alabama Supreme Court ruling that frozen embryos are children. Other clinics soon followed suit.

On the other end of the line were patients in the midst of fertility treatment now desperate for someplace to go.

There were also patients from Louisiana and Mississippi, afraid of what the ruling might mean for them. Some, who were taking a break from treatments, are now anxious to start back up, said Dr. Nicole Ulrich, OB-GYN and fertility specialist at the clinic.

“They’re concerned that if there were to be something similar that would happen in Louisiana, then they might not have access to treatment any longer,” said Ulrich. “Which, unfortunately, is a real concern.”






Dr. Nicole Ulrich poses at Audubon Fertility in New Orleans, Thursday, Feb. 29, 2024. (Photo by Sophia Germer, The Times-Picayune)




Until recently, Louisiana was one of the only states with laws that grant special status to embryos, addressing whether they are people. But the state’s laws on personhood are contradictory. That ambiguity leaves the door open for future challenges to Louisiana’s law following the Alabama decision, should a case questioning whether an embryo is a person arise here.

And that has left fertility specialists and couples that need help conceiving concerned about what might be next.

Laws for abortion in the wake of the Dobbs rule spread widely,” said Dr. Preston Parry, an OB-GYN and fertility doctor with practices in Mississippi and Louisiana. “You could see the same thing happen for IVF.”

700 IVF babies yearly

In vitro fertilization is often the last line of hope for those who aren’t able to get pregnant on their own. In IVF, the embryos are created outside the body with an egg retrieved after stimulating the ovaries with hormones. The egg is fertilized with sperm in a petri dish and frozen in a test tube until families are ready to implant it in the uterus.

In Louisiana, over 1,500 embryos were transferred from freezer to womb in 2021. About 700 babies were born using assistive reproductive technology in the same year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, amounting to about 1.2% of all births in the state.

The Alabama case and implications

In 2020, a hospital patient in Mobile, Alabama wandered into an area where embryos are stored, retrieved the embryos from a nitrogen tank and dropped them, destroying them, according to court documents.

Three families sued over the loss of five embryos, claiming the wrongful death of a minor. Alabama’s Supreme Court, drawing on a 2018 anti-abortion amendment to the state’s constitution, ruled that embryos are unborn children, and therefore the wrongful death law applies.

The consequences of the court decision were swift. Most of Alabama’s clinics paused operations. And patients have struggled to transfer their embryos to other states, given that transporters don’t want to be held liable for wrongful death if an accident happened.

One of those embryos is Elsa.

“Elsa hanging out in her little ice palace, that’s what we call her,” said Grace Gauci, a Mississippi resident who underwent IVF in Alabama after several miscarriages. A single healthy embryo, a female, was the result.







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Grace Gauci poses outside Audubon Fertility in New Orleans, Thursday, Feb. 29, 2024. She said she has an embryo in Alabama she is unable to use or transport due to the Alabama Supreme Court decision declaring embryos are people. (Photo by Sophia Germer, The Times-Picayune)




On Thursday, Gauci drove from Gulfport to New Orleans to find out if the embryo could be transferred to Louisiana. She’s turning 40 in December and wants to move it before then. If it doesn’t work, she’ll have to endure another round of egg retrieval, fertilization and implantation.

Despite jokingly calling her Elsa, she doesn’t see the frozen embryo as a human, even though she sympathizes with the Alabama parents who feel they lost their child.

“I feel like it’s our DNA and it could be a person,” said Gauci. “But it’s not like there’s an actual baby frozen somewhere, right?”

Mostly, she thinks her embryo is none of Alabama’s business.

“I’m being told what I can do with something that is mine by the government of a state I don’t even live in,” said Gauci. “It’s something that is of me and my husband, and I should be able to do with it what I wish.”

Louisiana’s law

In the 1980s, when IVF was in its infancy, Louisiana set out to define whether the frozen group of 150 or so cells that make up an embryo is a person. The state decided they were “juridical persons” in a 1986 law with certain protections. The law says embryos are entities that could sue or be sued, or have a trust fund opened in their name, for example, said Monica Hof Wallace, lawyer and professor who teaches laws of personhood at Loyola University New Orleans College of Law.

“Juridical persons are not human beings,” said Wallace. “But then (Louisiana) has another statute that says the in vitro fertilized ovum is a biological human being. So that seems to conflict on its face.”

Other laws say protected life begins “at the moment of conception.” Louisiana law does not define whether conception occurs inside or outside the body.

The laws were meant to protect embryos at a time when the science was new. Embryos cannot be destroyed or donated to research in Louisiana, even if genetic testing, which was not routine in the 1980s, shows they are abnormal. Most clinics ship them out of state to Arizona or Texas for long-term storage, where families can choose to have them destroyed or donated.







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Eggs are stored in containers at Audubon Fertility in New Orleans, Thursday, Feb. 29, 2024. (Photo by Sophia Germer, The Times-Picayune)




But the laws also open the door for those who want to test the them.

That was demonstrated when actress Sofia Vergara’s ex-fiance Nick Loeb sued her in a Louisiana court after creating a trust on behalf of two embryos the couple created in California. The case was dismissed on the grounds the court did not have jurisdiction over embryos in another state.

Lawmakers have at times expressed support for IVF. The Louisiana Legislature last year passed a bill that has been signed into law that requires private insurance to cover the process for people undergoing cancer treatments or other medical procedures that make it hard to conceive a child. , One round can cost between $25,000 to $30,000.

Louisiana Right to Life, a group that opposes abortions, said in a statement last week that embryos are human beings. The statement also said Louisiana law allows for in vitro fertilization that follows the state’s legal protections for embryos. 

“We encourage the medical profession, and those practicing in vitro fertilization, to ensure ethical safeguards are in place to respect and protect human embryos,” Executive Director Benjamin Clapper said.

Although many see the creation of a family through IVF as “pro-life,” there are groups that see it similarly to abortion, like “humans playing God,” said Tulane University sociologist Katherine Johnson, who wrote about Louisiana’s law in her 2023 book “Undoing Motherhood.” 







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Stefanie Braun prepares eggs at Audubon Fertility in New Orleans, Thursday, Feb. 29, 2024. (Photo by Sophia Germer, The Times-Picayune)




That makes Louisiana a riskier place to pursue treatment for infertility. 

“If I were considering IVF, I would probably make the decision to not do it in Louisiana, given that there might be people who are emboldened by the Alabama decision and given the current trajectory of reproductive rights issues,” said Johnson.

Baton Rouge resident Blair Boles said IVF, which can include daily painful hormone shots through the first 12 weeks of pregnancy and appointments several times per week for monitoring, is already taxing without thinking about traveling or threats to local clinics. 

Hormones stimulated the creation of 36 eggs during her first IVF cycle. Eighteen developed into embryos. Of the five they had tested for genetic abnormalities, two came back normal. One was implanted nine months ago. Boles, 31, is scheduled to give birth on Tuesday. 

“To call embryos minor children when over half won’t make it to a viable pregnancy is just ignorance,” said Boles, a law school admissions director. “If all of our 18 embryos are minor children, do we get 18 tax exemptions?”  

She said the Alabama ruling made her stomach turn, thinking of the women who have already been through so much.

“It’s a process you only would do if you had to do it,” she said. 

Last Wednesday, a bill aimed at federally protecting IVF was blocked by Mississippi Republican Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith, who said it was too far reaching.

Then on Thursday, the GOP-controlled Alabama legislature voted to give doctors who provide IVF both civil and criminal immunity for any death or damage to embryos. The measure could be signed into law this week.

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About Mary Weyand 12338 Articles
Mary founded Scoop Tour with an aim to bring relevant and unaltered news to the general public with a specific view point for each story catered by the team. She is a proficient journalist who holds a reputable portfolio with proficiency in content analysis and research. With ample knowledge about the Automobile industry, she also contributes her knowledge for the Automobile section of the website.

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