Alabama's IVF ruling could send wave of patients to Bay Area

For decades, in vitro fertilization has allowed couples suffering with conception issues, to achieve pregnancy. But recently, the Alabama Supreme Court ruled frozen embryos awaiting implantation in a woman’s uterus, have the same legal protections as children.

"We have seen more broadly the expansion of fetal personhood ideology in law. And it’s not unusual for states to copy one another when they’re creating new legislation, or even when courts are determining things," said Dr. Grace Howard, a reproductive right's professor in the San Jose State Univ. Dept. of Justice Studies.

The high court ruling in the Cotton State sent shock waves through the south, and beyond. Some couples who were considering using the high-priced technology to conceive, are now on the brink of reconsidering because of the potential legal ramifications. The court had said three couples whose frozen embryos were accidentally destroyed, can sue.

"Emotionally, I can’t view them as children,"  said one woman as she sat side-by-side with her significant other. "They’re potential children. I just want my right to have a child to be protected." Added Howard, "This has a huge impact on the provision of medical care. In labor law. And we’ve seen a lot of criminalization based on the idea that a pregnant person is harming her own pregnancy."

Alabama’s largest hospital has paused in vitro fertilization treatment as doctors and their patients try to assess the court ruling. The University of Alabama at Birmingham health system said in a statement that it will evaluate whether its patients or doctors could face criminal charges or punitive damages if they move forward with the procedures.

"Equating a child to an embryo is scientifically unfounded. And the clinical ramifications of such a decision are tremendous," said Dr. Jennifer Kawwass, the medical director for the Emory Reproductive Center.

Some believe the changing climate in the south could send couples seeking in vitro fertilization to the west, including the Bay Area. Some experts see that migration as similar to the aftermath of the U.S. Supreme Court’s rollback of Roe-v-Wade.

"California is somewhat of a leader in the area of reproductive technology. And so people were traveling to California before. But now I think there is certainly there is a much greater incentive," said Howard.

The Alabama ruling could be appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, as it becomes the latest example of civil discord in America.

Jesse Gary is a reporter based in the station's South Bay bureau. Follow him on X (formerly Twitter), @JesseKTVU and on Instagram, @jessegontv.