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Melson: IVF bill could be through Senate this week


MONTGOMERY, Ala. — Rebecca and Wright Mathews’ journey to becoming parents to their son, 7, and daughter, 1, was long, complicated and at times, devastating.

The Pike Road couple’s nearly nine-year process included fertility treatments, several rounds of in vitro fertilization, which included multiple egg retrievals, the storage of frozen embryos, multiple implantations and several pregnancy losses.

When Rebecca Mathews first heard about the Alabama Supreme Court’s ruling on the rights of frozen embryos and the subsequent pause in services at some IVF providers because of fears of criminal prosecution, she says her first thoughts were of the Alabama families currently in the midst of the same treatments she’d endured.

“It’s taking these resources we have in this state that are so precious, and just saying, no, we’re going to cut that off,” Rebecca Mathews told Alabama Daily News. “It makes no sense and it’s adding on to what is already a very difficult place to be.”

She delivered their son in 2016 and a surrogate in Colorado delivered their daughter in 2023.

The couple has one remaining frozen embryo at an IVF provider in Birmingham and they haven’t decided what they’ll do with it.  But until the Alabama Legislature passes legislation to protect the IVF process, the Mathews, and many others, are at a loss.

“Now our hands are tied behind our backs and we don’t have an option, and we’re not trusted with an option,” Mathews said.

She will be at the State House Wednesday morning rallying with other families and asking lawmakers to give them back their options.

Sen. Tim Melson, R-Florence, said Monday he hopes to have his IVF protection bill introduced today and through the Senate and to the House by the end of the day Thursday. In the House, Minority Leader Antony Daniels, D-Huntsville, filed a similar bill last week. It’s not yet on a committee agenda.

“This legislation will bring clarity and stability to the law of IVF fertility treatment,” Daniels said Monday at a press conference outside the State House. “Most importantly, this will also return the personal, medical decisions back to the women and their doctors instead of politicians who have absolutely no business making a decision about (that) right.”

Meanwhile, a leader of one of the state’s anti-abortion groups said he’d like to see any IVF bill approved by the Legislature include more regulations, similar to a Louisiana law that prohibits viable embryos from being discarded.

Eric Johnston is a pro-life advocate who has helped draft several pro-life Alabama bills, including the 2018 “personhood” amendment impacting this case and the 2019 near-total ban on abortion.

“The Alabama Pro-Life Coalition does not oppose IVF,” Johnston said. “… But the problem is that it’s been unregulated.”

He called proposals in the State House “woefully inadequate.” Besides a better legal definition of an embryo outside a womb, Johnston said the coalition is discussing with lawmakers more regulations of IVF processes, including the number of fertilized eggs that could be implanted and what could be done with those that aren’t.

“We need to provide maybe for adoption of those, (that) they cannot be sold or used for medical experiments. Just common sense things — that’s what we’d like to see,” he told Alabama Daily News.

Melson said a commission to study IVF regulations is likely, but a separate bill. For now, he’s focused on restarting clinics that halted operations last week.

“I’m just trying to get things back on track for the women who are in the middle of the process,” Melson said Monday. He’s aware of one woman who has delayed cancer treatment to get her eggs retrieved.

Melson said the bill he introduces today will be slightly different from a draft circulated last week.

“I don’t want to get into when life begins,” he said. “My goal is to find a way to get (providers) up and running without the threat of criminal liability.”

Melson said he’s been assured by legal advisors to the Legislature that a legal fix is possible without a constitutional amendment. In the court’s ruling, it cited a 2018 amendment approved by Alabamians protecting the rights of the unborn.

Daniels said language in his bill was pulled directly from the court decision.

“I know that there are some that want to see more of a constitutional amendment, but families right now can’t wait until November,” he said. “This bill helps people right now, immediately, so this can be taken care of in a week, a week and a half, it can be solved.”

Rep. Pebblin Warren, D-Tuskegee, speaking at the press conference alongside Daniels, said she hopes this conversation leads to a larger one about health care for women and children.

“For too long, they have been left behind, and hopefully, this controversy surrounding IVF will bring these other important women’s health care issues back into our public discourse,” she said.

Mathews said she hopes lawmakers work together quickly and she was relieved to hear Attorney General Steve Marshall’s office say families and providers won’t be prosecuted under the ruling. Still, there is too much uncertainty right now.

She said that if she were just now beginning her IVF journey, the court’s decision wouldn’t have changed her mind. But it may have changed her location.

“It wouldn’t scare me away from the process, it would have scared me to another state,” Mathews said.

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