Alabama's biggest hospital to suspend transfer of embryos after court ruling

University of Alabama at Birmingham Hospital was first to stop IVF treatment.

February 23, 2024, 4:42 PM

Alabama's biggest hospital announced it will no longer be shipping any embryos out of state or to another facility, just days after saying it was pausing IVF treatments. The developments come in response to a state Supreme Court decision that said frozen embryos are considered children.

Several families told ABC News they were considering moving their embryos out of state in order to continue IVF treatment.

University of Alabama at Birmingham Hospital said it has been unable to identify shipping companies that are "able and willing" to transport embryos.

"We understand some patients wish to transport their embryos to another facility," the hospital said in a statement Friday. "Companies that transport embryos are also assessing the risks associated with the Alabama Supreme Court ruling, and we are working to identify a company that is able and willing as soon as possible. It is our goal to help patients who are interested in this option do so safely, but -- at this time -- there are no options available. We want to assure patients that embryos currently stored at UAB are safe here."

PHOTO: In this Oct. 2, 2018, photo, containers holding frozen embryos and sperm are stored in liquid nitrogen at a fertility clinic in Fort Myers, Fla. The Alabama Supreme Court ruled Feb. 16, 2024, frozen embryos can be considered children under law.
In this Tuesday, Oct. 2, 2018 photo, containers holding frozen embryos and sperm are stored in liquid nitrogen at a fertility clinic in Fort Myers, Fla. The Alabama Supreme Court ruled, Friday, Feb. 16, 2024, that frozen embryos can be considered children under state law.
Lynne Sladky/AP, FILE

On Thursday, two more Alabama fertility clinics said they will stop providing in vitro fertilization treatment.

Alabama Fertility Specialists and the Center for Reproductive Medicine in Mobile, Alabama, have each decided to pause treatments, they announced Thursday.

"We have made the impossibly difficult decision to hold new IVF treatments due to the legal risk to our clinic and our embryologists," Alabama Fertility Specialists said in a statement. "We are contacting patients that will be affected today to find solutions for them and we are working as hard as we can to alert our legislators as to the far reaching negative impact of this ruling on the women of Alabama."

Alabama Fertility Specialists vowed not to close its doors and said it will "continue to fight for our patients and the families of Alabama."

"At a time when we feel so powerless, advocacy and awareness is our strongest tools. Check back in later today for links to advocacy opportunities," the group said in a statement.

Dr. Mamie McLean, an infertility specialist at Alabama Fertility Specialists in Birmingham, Alabama, told "Good Morning America" earlier this week that the court's historic ruling could impact the future of in vitro fertilization treatments for those trying to access fertility treatments, adding that for her, the ruling left more open questions than answers.

"We're concerned that this ruling has far-reaching consequences for what we feel is safe to freeze and safe to discard," McLean said.

PHOTO: A scientific researcher handles frozen embryonic stem cells in a laboratory, at the University of Sao Paulo, in Brazil, on March 4, 2008. The Alabama Supreme Court ruled frozen embryos outside the womb are children.
Mauricio Lima/AFP via Getty Images, FILE

The Center for Reproductive Medicine said they had "no choice but to pause IVF treatments for patients."

"We understand the burden this places on deserving families who want to bring babies into this world and who have no alternative options for conceiving," Mark Nix, president and chief executive officer of Infirmary Health, said in a statement.

The court ruling opened the door to individuals being held civilly -- and potentially criminally -- liable for the destruction of embryos.

The decision stemmed from a lawsuit brought by couples who alleged that a patient managed to "wander" into a fertility clinic through an unsecured door, removing several embryos and dropping them to the floor.

The couples whose embryos were destroyed tried to bring a wrongful death suit against the facility but a lower court threw out the lawsuits. The Alabama state Supreme Court then reversed the lower court decision and deemed frozen embryos are children.

Alabama Fertility Specialists and Center for Reproductive Medicine in Mobile, Alabama, followed the University of Alabama at Birmingham Hospital in suspending the treatment.

"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 IVF treatments. We want to reiterate that it is IVF treatment that is paused. Everything through egg retrieval remains in place. Egg fertilization and embryo development is paused," the University of Alabama at Birmingham said in a statement earlier this week.