ABC 11 by Michael Perchick 

Standing behind a podium inside the Terry Sanford Federal Building, Hannah Johnson shared the emotional highs and lows of in vitro fertilization (IVF) treatment.

"I went through several transfers with several embryos, went through several miscarriages, delivered stillborn twins two years ago. Then in August of last year, I got to hold my miracle baby. His name is Ellis. So for us, me and my husband, IVF was life-changing," explained Johnson.

She was one of three IVF patients to speak at a press conference Thursday, calling on state and federal protections for IVF access.

"I think that's what we need to continue to do, is to educate people on what IVF is and the types of people that need it. There is a huge population out there that their dream is to have kids that just cannot do it naturally," said Lauren Garrett, a mother and IVF nurse.

"I can't even imagine now not being able to go through IVF and not having both of my babies," added Ashlee Beal, also a mother.

Last month, the Alabama Supreme Court ruled that frozen embryos are legally considered children, allowing for the possibility that providers could face criminal or civil penalties if discarded, even accidentally. The decision forced three IVF clinics in that state to close, and sent lawmakers scrambling to draft a bill to prevent such penalties from moving forward.

In the US, about 2% of births involve IVF.

"The ruling is already beginning to have far-reaching and devastating effects for thousands of people in the region and could inspire similar lawsuits on fetal personhood in other states," explained Jillian Riley, who works with Planned Parenthood South Atlantic.

It's common for women to create more embryos than are ultimately used, with families responsible for paying annual storage fees.

"Most couples discard embryos, but this is not a decision that is ever taken lightly. I see many patients continue to store their embryos for years after they've completed their family, until they are ready to have closure and signed consents to discard the embryos. If a decision like the one in Alabama was to happen here in North Carolina, IVF clinics would not be able to freeze embryos and modern fertility care would be unavailable to the people of North Carolina," said Dr. Meaghan Bowling, who works at Carolina Conceptions in Raleigh.

Wednesday, New York Representative Marc Molinaro became the first Republican to co-sponsor the Access to Family Building Act, which would ensure federal protections for IVF.

"It is time to codify the right to IVF care," said Rep. Deborah Ross.

Reproductive rights are expected to be a key campaign issue during the 2024 election, just a year after the North Carolina Legislature passed new abortion restrictions.

"From abortion bans to attacks on contraception and now threats to IVF, women are fed up with politicians trying to dictate their health care choices. Not only does this decision endanger reproductive health care, but it can also have serious repercussions for doctors and how they practice medicine and for the advancement of new scientific and medical discoveries, many of which are happening in the Research Triangle right now," Ross said.

"When the Dobbs decision overturned Roe v. Wade, we saw the risks coming. We knew that reproductive freedom was on the line. Unfortunately, in North Carolina and throughout this country, we've seen these fears play out," said Attorney General Josh Stein, who is running for Governor.

He called on state lawmakers to address IVF.

"The General Assembly could 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," said Stein.

ABC 11 reached out to House Speaker Tim Moore, Senate President Phil Berger, and Lt. Governor Mark Robinson's campaign team (Robinson is running against Stein in the gubernatorial election) for interviews to discuss this issue. None were available, but each sent statements:

Rep. Moore, who said the Legislature will not bring up a bill during the short session to address IVF, wrote: "In vitro fertilization (IVF) treatments can be a beneficial option for many families facing infertility or other challenges, which is why I support access to IVF. Thankfully, IVF treatments are legal under state law. In fact, I find it disappointing that Democrats would employ such dishonest fear tactics in order to distract from their party's failed record on immigration, crime, and inflation. Any assertion that IVF access is in jeopardy in North Carolina or requires any additional codification is entirely false."

Sen. Berger: "Our current laws do not endanger access to IVF treatments. For pandering politicians like Josh Stein, who support abortions of healthy babies up until the moment of birth, to suggest otherwise is fearmongering. I support women and families having access to IVF and will take any necessary steps to ensure that will continue to be the case."

Mike Lonergan, Communications Director - Mark Robinson for Governor: "Mark Robinson wants to turn North Carolina into a destination state for life by creating a culture that will do more to support families that choose life - and this certainly includes protecting IVF. It is important to know that Democrats are trying to manufacture a campaign issue out of an out-of-state court ruling that doesn't even apply to the people of North Carolina."