After Ruling, University of Alabama at Birmingham Health System Pauses I.V.F. Procedures - The World News

After Ruling, University of Alabama at Birmingham Health System Pauses I.V.F. Procedures

The University of Alabama at Birmingham health system announced on Wednesday that it was pausing in vitro fertilization treatments as it evaluated the Alabama Supreme Court’s ruling that frozen embryos should be considered children.

“We are saddened that this will impact our patients’ attempt to have a baby through I.V.F.,” a statement from the health system said, “but we must evaluate the potential that our patients and our physicians could be prosecuted criminally or face punitive damages for following the standard of care for I.V.F. treatments.”

The health system’s Division of Reproductive Endocrinology and Infertility will continue performing egg retrievals from women seeking fertility treatment, the statement said, but it will not undertake the next steps in the process — combining the eggs with sperm in a lab for fertilization, and allowing embryos to develop — for now.

“Everything through egg retrieval remains in place,” the statement said. “Egg fertilization and embryo development is paused.”

In response to a question, a spokesperson for the health system said that embryo implantation procedures, the final part of the I.V.F. process, had also been paused.

The health system includes the University of Alabama at Birmingham Hospital, the largest hospital in the state and, according to its website, among the 20 “largest and best equipped” hospitals in the country.

The decision by U.A.B comes just five days after the Alabama Supreme Court issued a ruling saying that frozen embryos in test tubes should be considered children.

The ruling stemmed from appeals cases brought by couples whose embryos were destroyed in 2020 when a hospital patient removed frozen embryos from tanks of liquid nitrogen in Mobile, Ala., and dropped them on the floor.

The ruling referenced the antiabortion language in Alabama’s Constitution, saying that an 1872 statute allowing parents to sue over the wrongful death of a minor child applies to “unborn children,” with no exception for “extrauterine children.”

“Even before birth, all human beings have the image of God, and their lives cannot be destroyed without effacing his glory,” Chief Justice Tom Parker wrote in a concurring opinion.

It has become standard medical protocol during in vitro fertilization to extract as many eggs as possible from a woman, and then fertilize them to create embryos. One or two embryos are typically transferred into the uterus to maximize the chances of successful implantation and a full-term pregnancy; the others are frozen for possible future use.

The ruling sent shock waves through the world of reproductive medicine, as infertility specialists and legal experts took measure of the potential effects on access to in vitro fertilization and other fertility treatments.

Speaking to reporters on Tuesday, the White House press secretary, Karine Jean-Pierre, said that the ruling was going to cause “exactly the type of chaos that we expected when the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade and paved the way for politicians to dictate some of the most personal decisions families can make.”

From 2017 to 2019, 10 percent of American women ages 15 to 44 said they had received some form of fertility service, according to the Pew Research Center. In 2021, assisted reproductive technology, which includes I.V.F, accounted for 91,906 births in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In Alabama, 1,219 procedures using assisted reproductive technology were performed in 2021, according to the C.D.C.

Azeen Ghorayshi and Roni Caryn Rabin contributed reporting.

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