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House passes IVF bill, debates consistency with state’s fetal personhood stance

The bill ultimately received bipartisan support, but the opposition also crossed party lines.

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After three hours of debate, only six members of the Alabama House of Representatives voted against a stop-gap bill to get IVF clinics operating once again in the state.

HB237 by State Rep. Terri Collins, R-Decatur, passed alongside its companion bill by Sen. Tim Melson, R-Florence, the Senate Thursday, setting up a vote for final passage out of the Legislature as soon as Wednesday. The bills provide broad immunity for IVF clinics and patients from criminal and civil liabilities.

The bill ultimately received bipartisan support, but the opposition also crossed party lines.

State Rep. Ernie Yarbrough, R-Trinity, said the Alabama Supreme Court in its ruling “possibly uncovered a silent holocaust going on in our state.”

“It is incumbent on us to sit in the pause … and seek the face of God while we pause what could potentially be the destruction of children that maybe we weren’t even aware was going on,” Yarbrough said. “There are paths forward, there are options that we can pursue; but by running this through and not taking time to maybe pause IVF, sit in the pause, and really do our job to make sure that we’re not signing the death warrant of Alabama children.”

Yarbrough offered an amendment to the bill that would have held IVF clinics liable for “the intentional death of an unborn child,” but Collins said she would not support any changes to the legislation on the floor as the Legislature tries to push the response through as quickly as possible.

Collins shot down several other amendments proposed during the debate, and told lawmakers some of the ideas could be discussed as it heads to the Senate instead, and her colleagues voted the amendments down.

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Although four Democrat lawmakers voted down the bill, but some of them indicated on the floor that it was due to the legislation falling short of fixing the problem. Rep. AJ McCampbell, D-Gallion , who ultimately voted in favor of the bill, said it is like “putting a band-aid on a bazooka wound.”

Rep. Mary Moore, D-Montgomery, ultimately voted against the bill, and said on the floor that the Legislature must revisit the question of when life begins instead of skirting the issue. Rep. Jaundalynn Givan, D-Birmingham, voted against the bill and said on the floor that she doesn’t agree with giving doctors so much immunity out of concern for the patients.

Although only two Republicans voted outright against the bill, three more abstained—and all three expressed their concerns and moral contradictions on the floor.

“We’re almost doing a knee-jerk reaction here because of the urgency of what we have to do,” said Rep. Mark Gidley, R-Glencoe, who abstained from voting. “That is extremely dangerous … I’m a full believer that there are those out there who would like to capitalize on this to move us away from our pro-life stance. This concerns me deeply and in my opinion can never happen.”

One lawmaker taking a phone call in the hallway could be heard saying “we are going to be punished for this.”

Gidley said he would like to see language added to the bill to ensure that embryos created through IVF can be used only for reproductive purposes and not for research, and Collins said discussions could be had about including that language as it takes shape in the Senate.

Rep. Arnold Mooney, R-Indian Springs, who abstained from voting, said this issue is a “very difficult, heart-rending type of thing to be dealing with.”

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“To say that I’m a conflicted human being about this is just being dead honest,” Mooney said. “I don’t know the right answer to where we are.”

Some lawmakers expressed concern that a provision to sunset the law in a year had been stripped out, a response to concerns that the IVF process is too lengthy to have true protection if the immunity expired. 

One lawmaker stepped in the press room to make calls to local IVF clinics in their district to see if they were still operating and how this situation has affected them, and said the clinics are likely to be under the microscope for some time.

Rep. Ben Harrison, R-Limestone County, joined Yarbrough in voting against the bill and said the legislation is “asking this body to grant immunity to murder.”

Collins said this legislation is a short-term solution to restart operations at IVF clinics and that the body should follow up immediately with finding a longer term solution. Some lawmakers have suggested an ad hoc task force on the issue, but Collins suggested the Legislature could begin on a long-term solution as soon as next week.

The bill now moves to a Senate committee for consideration.

Jacob Holmes is a reporter at the Alabama Political Reporter. You can reach him at [email protected]

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