Alabama just enacted a new law to protect IVF. Here's what it does — and doesn't — do.

In vitro fertilization
A 3D illustration of in vitro fertilization. (Getty Images)

Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey signed a bill into law late Wednesday that offers protections for in vitro fertilization (IVF) patients and providers soon after it was passed by the Republican-led state Legislature.

The legislation comes after an unprecedented ruling from the Alabama Supreme Court last month, which said frozen embryos created for IVF are considered “children” under state law, and that people can be held legally responsible for the destruction of embryos under the state’s Wrongful Death Act.

While the ruling didn’t specifically ban IVF treatments, it caused chaos and uncertainty for infertility care in Alabama as several fertility providers paused IVF treatments out of fear of the ruling’s implications for patients and providers. The destruction of frozen embryos is a common part of the IVF process, as embryos are typically discarded when they are no longer needed or have genetic abnormalities.

Here’s what to know about Alabama’s new IVF law:

📜 What the law says

Alabama Senate Bill 159 is designed to provide immunity from from civil and criminal liability for doctors and IVF treatment providers that discard embryos as part or a routine IVF process.

The bill states: “no action, suit, or criminal prosecution for the damage to or death of an embryo shall be brought or maintained against any individual or entity when providing or receiving services related to in vitro fertilization.”

⚖️ What the law does

The new law, which is quite narrow, is more of a stop-gap solution to allow IVF providers in Alabama to resume any IVF treatments they may have paused in response to last month’s ruling.

The law says it will “provide civil and criminal immunity for death or damage to an embryo to any individual or entity when providing or receiving services related to in vitro fertilization.”

The measure went into effect immediately and is retroactive, meaning the law also applies to any past damage or destruction of frozen embryos that wasn’t already part of a lawsuit.

🔎 What the law doesn’t do

The newly enacted legislation doesn’t answer the main question raised by the Alabama Supreme Court ruling, which is whether frozen embryos created through IVF have the same rights as children under state law.

That’s why many legal experts and reproductive rights advocates worry that the law doesn’t go far enough.

Such concerns have also been acknowledged by the bill’s sponsor, Alabama senator and medical doctor Tim Melson, a Republican. He told NPR that his original intention with the bill was to define personhood, but ultimately decided to remove the language to ensure the bill would be passed.

"I think there's just too much difference of opinion on when actual life begins," Melson said. "A lot of people say conception, a lot of people say implantation, a lot of people say heartbeat. I wish I had an answer."

🏥 Will providers in Alabama resume paused IVF treatments?

“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 after signing S.B. 159 into law.

So far, two of the three IVF providers who paused aspects of their fertility programs following the Alabama Supreme Court ruling are expected to resume their care.

Alabama Fertility is one of them, as indicated in a social media post that reads, in part: “Transfers and IVF starts this week and more pregnancies and more babies in Alabama. Let’s get to work!”

Meanwhile, the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB), one of the largest IVF providers in the state, made a more cautious announcement.

In a recorded video statement, Dr. Warner Huh, chair of UAB’s department of obstetrics and gynecology, praised the swift action by the Alabama Legislature to pass SB159 which, he said, “provides some protections and will therefore allow UAB to restart in vitro fertilization treatments, also known as IVF.”

“While UAB is moving to promptly resume IVF treatments, we will continue to assess developments and advocate for protections for IVF patients and our providers,” Huh added.

As of Thursday afternoon, Infirmary Health Systems and the Center for Reproductive Medicine, which are the IVF providers involved in the lawsuit that prompted the Alabama Supreme Court decision, said they would not yet resume their IVF treatments.

“At this time, we believe the law falls short of addressing the fertilized eggs currently stored across the state and leaves challenges for physicians and fertility clinics trying to help deserving families have children of their own,” the statement said.

📦 Will the new law allow paused embryo shipping to and from Alabama to resume?

Nationwide embryo shipping to and from Alabama was also halted as a result of the state Supreme Court ruling, according to a statement from Barbara Collura, president and CEO of Resolve, the National Infertility Association.

In response to an emailed request from Yahoo News, Rebecca Flick, Resolve’s chief external affairs officer, said “they do not have any information” regarding whether embryo shipments to and from the state will resume as a result of the new law.