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News / Northwest

Idaho lawmakers move to protect IVF as backlash grows against Alabama ruling

By Ian Max Stevenson and Michael Wilner, , Idaho Statesman
Published: February 27, 2024, 7:43pm

BOISE, Idaho — Idaho lawmakers from both parties are moving to protect in vitro fertilization procedures in the state after an Alabama court ruled earlier this month that embryos produced through IVF should be treated legally as children, McClatchy and the Idaho Statesman have learned.

The momentous ruling from the Alabama Supreme Court said the southern state’s constitution provided “rights of the unborn” to “extrauterine children,” a decision that has put Republicans on the defensive after GOP-run legislatures passed laws throughout the country declaring rights for the unborn from the moment of fertilization.

Idaho, where a Republican supermajority controls the Legislature, has among the strictest abortion laws in the nation, banning the procedure with few exceptions.

“We definitely feel like something needs to be done in that area,” said Rep. John Vander Woude, R-Nampa, in an interview with the Statesman.

Vander Woude has paired up with Rep. Brooke Green, D-Boise, whose son was born just over a year ago through IVF, a form of fertility treatment that allows a woman’s eggs to be fertilized with sperm in a lab and later implanted into a uterus.

“We recognize that this isn’t a partisan issue,” Green said. “This is about ensuring that those who want to bring life into the world have the means with which to do it.”

“We need to ensure that we codify IVF in state statute and protect it against any attacks in the future,” she added.

Lawmakers are being urged to take action by top fertility doctors in Idaho alarmed by the ruling in Alabama.

Physicians at the Idaho Center for Reproductive Medicine, the state’s main IVF provider, told McClatchy and the Statesman in a joint statement that their team was “both surprised and disturbed by the recent decision by the Alabama Supreme Court.”

“The decision, which is unfounded by medicine and scientific principles, represents a very real threat to Alabama’s citizens’ access to modern fertility treatments and, in turn, deprives them of their fundamental right to build a family,” the ICRM statement said. “We hope that such a decision remains an outlier and is not repeated in other states, most notably, our own state of Idaho.”

“We look forward to working with our state legislators to ensure that IVF and modern fertility treatments gain the legislative protection that they deserve in order to prevent a similar decision ever occurring in Idaho and to preserve Idahoans’ access to the critical services that they need,” the physicians added.

Green and Vander Woude said they are working with lawmakers in both chambers of the Legislature to bring forward a bill before the session is scheduled to end next month. Green has already been in communication with ICRM on the matter, she said.

GOP leaders in the Senate and House did not immediately respond to questions about whether they support the proposal.

Vander Woude, who is also chairman of the House Health and Welfare Committee, said he expects the bill to get majority support so long as it is “worded properly.”

The U.S. Supreme Court decision to overturn Roe v. Wade in 2022 paved the way for Alabama’s ruling this month, returning the power to regulate abortion back to the states — long a priority for Republicans who immediately put laws in place that limited abortion access in states they controlled.

The language of some of those laws — many of which were drafted well before the Supreme Court struck Roe down in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization — declared that life begins at the moment of conception, or fertilization, drawing concern early on from reproductive rights advocates that IVF could ultimately be imperiled.

During the IVF process, physicians aim to retrieve and fertilize as many of a woman’s eggs as possible to maximize the chances that multiple healthy embryos form. Many that do initially stop growing on their own, feature chromosomal abnormalities that could lead to miscarriage, or will simply fail to implant in the uterus — potentially requiring several attempts before a successful pregnancy.

One of Idaho’s abortion laws references Supreme Court precedent and notes the state has a “profound interest” in protecting the lives of “preborn children.” A separate abortion law says that “the life of each human being begins at fertilization, and preborn children have interests in life, health and well-being that should be protected.”

Green told the Statesman she believes IVF can be protected without “touching” Idaho’s abortion laws, because those prohibitions are focused on fertilization that happens inside of a uterus. But she said she has concerns about the potential implications of another bill proposed this year by Rep. Julianne Young, R-Blackfoot, to change references to “fetus” and “embryo” in law to “preborn child.”

Lawmakers in the House decided to hold that bill in committee after testimony from an OB-GYN, who said she was worried that defining every stage of a pregnancy — from embryo to fetus — as a “child” could jeopardize IVF procedures.

Young, who has said her bill would not make policy changes, told the Statesman by phone that her bill will not proceed this year. She said that she and other lawmakers have decided not to amend the state’s abortion law while a lawsuit over emergency abortions in Idaho is pending before the Supreme Court.

But she said her bill would not have implicated IVF.

“I understand that it seems like there’s a nexus there, but it’s just not necessarily relevant to the IVF conversation,” she said.

“I think IVF does a lot of good and I think we want to see that good be able to continue,” she added. “I think the part that’s open for discussion is people’s opinions about different things that might be involved with that,” though she declined to name specifics.

But a spokesperson for Planned Parenthood, Mack Smith, told the Statesman by email that strict abortion laws such those in Idaho would invariably lead to confusion over other reproductive procedures.

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“The bottom line is that we’ve already seen major impacts to the medical practice because of laws like the state’s abortion ban,” Smith said. “The further we stray from science and facts, the more likely we are to see consequences like what is playing out in Alabama right now.”