Alabama IVF ruling explained: Trump and others distance themselves from court decision

Ruling has caused alarm among those looking to in vitro fertilisation to conceive a child as well as reproductive rights activists

IVF is one of the more widely known types of assisted reproductive technology. Getty Images
Powered by automated translation

Alabama's Supreme Court has ruled that two couples who were trying in vitro fertilisation and lost frozen embryos in an accident at a storage facility can sue under the southern state’s wrongful death law.

The decision has caused alarm among those looking to IVF to conceive as well as reproductive rights activists, as the decision could mean the destruction of embryos could result in criminal charges.

It has also influenced Republicans like presidential candidate Donald Trump to state their opposition to the ruling to ensure political support.

What is IVF?

IVF is one of the more widely known types of assisted reproductive technology.

It works by using a combination of medicines and surgical procedures to help sperm fertilise an egg, and help the fertilised egg implant in a uterus, according to Planned Parenthood, an organisation that provides reproductive and sexual healthcare.

About eight million children have been born through IVF in the US.

In 2021, about 97,128 babies were born in the country via IVF, according to the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention.

What does the Alabama ruling say?

The Alabama Supreme Court said three couples who had lost frozen embryos during an accident at a storage facility could sue the fertility clinic and hospital for the wrongful death of a minor, the Associated Press reported.

Justices reversed a lower court ruling that dismissed the wrongful death claim on the grounds that the embryos were not a person or child.

The court had previously ruled that couples could sue when a pregnant woman lost a foetus.

It decided that “extrauterine children” were also covered under the wrongful death law.

“Unborn children are ‘children’ under the act, without exception based on developmental stage, physical location, or any other ancillary characteristics,” Justice Jay Mitchell wrote in his opinion.

The court heavily relied on both the wording of the wrongful death statute and language added to the Alabama Constitution in 2018 stating that Alabama protects the “rights of the unborn child”.

What does the Alabama IVF decision mean?

The decision could have major effects on couples looking to conceive through IVF as well as the clinics and doctors providing the service.

So far, three IVF clinics have suspended services as the implications of the ruling are sorted out, including the state's largest hospital — the University of Alabama of Birmingham.

Couples may need to store embryos in another state, making an expensive process even costlier.

The ruling also has wider implications for reproductive rights not only in Alabama but across the country since other states may make similar moves.

It is a major win for pro-life activists, who had another major victory last year when the US Supreme Court overturned Roe v Wade, the 1973 case that granted women the right to an abortion. Most pro-life activists are seen as politically conservative.

Why are Republicans distancing themselves from the ruling?

But the decision has received backlash from conservative politicians.

Donald Trump, the front-runner for the Republican presidential nomination, posted on his Truth Social platform that he would “strongly support the availability of IVF” and called on politicians in Alabama to preserve access to the treatment.

While Republican presidential candidate Nikki Haley told NBC News on Wednesday that she sees an embryo as “a life”, she later backtracked, saying she “didn't say that I agreed with the Alabama ruling”.

Two Republican governors on Thursday expressed support for IVF during an event hosted by Politico, with Georgia Governor Brian Kemp saying: “You have a lot of people out there in this country that wouldn’t have children if it weren’t for that.”

Axios reported that the National Republican Senatorial Committee is urging candidates to strongly oppose the Alabama Supreme Court ruling restricting access to fertility treatments.

This push to distance themselves from the decision is likely due to Mr Trump and Republicans fearing a lack of electoral support from voters who back protecting reproductive rights and access to abortion.

Republicans are also potentially concerned that the Alabama case has given Democrats a chance to bash conservative candidates about the slippery slope of red states' post-Roe restrictions.

Updated: February 24, 2024, 12:30 AM