NC Newsline by Lynn Bonner 

Lauren Garrett said she and her husband were able to start their family with the help of in vitro fertilization and called it a profound privilege “to embrace the journey of IVF” without interference from the government. 

Garrett was one of three North Carolina women who spoke at a news conference Thursday about how IVF was critical in their journeys to motherhood. 

“IVF has not only granted us the gift of parenthood, but also elevates each moment with our children with profound gratitude,” Garrett said of her and her husband. 

Parents who used IVF and fertility specialists are speaking up about the importance of the procedure as they see looming dangers to its legality. 

The Alabama Supreme Court ruled last month that embryos created through IVF are children under state law. Several IVF clinics in that state paused services. The ruling stunned families  who had used or wanted to use IVF and the medical professionals who provide it. 

Typically in IVF treatment multiple eggs are fertilized.  Embryos that grow are either implanted or frozen. 

“Frozen embryos are critical to IVF success,” said Dr. Meaghan Bowling, IVF medical director at Carolina Conceptions. “They allow patients to try again for a baby if their first try fails,” she said. “Or, they may be lucky enough to have the first embryo result in a live birth, then they can use their frozen embryos to have more babies in the future to help build their family.”

Though the impact of Alabama court’s decision was limited to that state, it raised questions whether other states would follow and if clinics would be able to continue to freeze embryos. Frozen embryos patients don’t use are donated or discarded. 

“Unfortunately, this ruling is just the latest in a string of assaults on the rights of women since Roe vs. Wade was overturned,” US Rep. Deborah Ross said at the news conference. 

Since the Alabama ruling,  Republicans in the US Senate have blocked attempts by Democrats in that chamber to protect IVF. 

More than 120 Republicans in the US House have cosponsored the “Life at Conception Act” filed in January, which would give embryos the “right to life” at the moment of fertilization. 

More than 140 US House members, mostly Democrats, signed on to the Access to Family Building Act, introduced in January, which would protect in vitro fertilization. 

Republicans saying they support IVF while they’re sponsoring fetal personhood bills “exposes their hypocrisy,” said Ross, a Raleigh Democrat. 

US House Speaker Mike Johnson told reporters Thursday that it’s up to states, not Congress to preserve access to IVF, States Newsroom reported. 

After the backlash to the Alabama court decision, the Alabama legislature scrambled to pass a law giving civil and criminal immunity to IVF providers for death or damage to embryos.

Fetal personhood is recognized in 19 states, Politico reported.

North Carolina isn’t one of them, but some Republicans have tried to advance the idea. 

In a custody ruling last year, state Appeals Court Judge Hunter Murphy decided to terminate a woman’s parental rights for conduct during her pregnancy because “life begins at conception.” Weeks later, the controversial opinion was withdrawn, NC Newsline reported. 

Three state House Republicans proposed an abortion ban  last year that would begin at the moment of fertilization. That bill did not receive a hearing, but Republican legislators banned most abortions after 12 weeks and made it harder for people to obtain medication abortions. 

House Speaker Tim Moore threw cold water on the notion that the House would debate  IVF-access bills this year.  “I’m not aware of it being an issue here at all,” he told reporters this week. “I think that the way that our bill is structured that it’s not an issue.”

Attorney General Josh Stein, the Democratic candidate for governor, urged the legislature to write protections for IVF into state law. 

“After this recent Alabama court ruling women and families are understandably anxious about what this means for their ability to begin and complete IVF,” he said. “The chaos is creating real stress among real people here in North Carolina. The General Assembly can alleviate all of that anxiety when they come back into session this April by passing a law that makes it crystal clear that IVF is protected here in North Carolina, and I urge them to do so.”

Just because Republicans won’t debate IVF this year doesn’t mean they won’t in the future, Stein said. 

“This issue of reproductive freedom is on the ballot every single cycle,” he said. “Because if the people who oppose reproductive freedom gain power with a supermajority in the legislature, the courts, and the governorship, they can have free rein to pass whatever laws they want next year.”