How will Alabama's embryo ruling impact IVF? Here are 6 key questions raised by the decision.

An embryologist demonstrates fertilization techniques on a nonviable embryo. He uses a thin clear tool to touch a gel-like substance in a petri dish.
Embryologist Rick Slifkin demonstrates fertilization techniques on a nonviable embryo at Reproductive Medicine Associates of New York, in New York in 2013. (Richard Drew/AP)

Several fertility clinics in Alabama have paused in vitro fertilization (IVF) treatments following a ruling by the state’s Supreme Court that says frozen embryos are considered “children” under state law. And now Alabama lawmakers are working on proposed legislation that would protect IVF in the state.

The decision, which was issued last week in response to a lawsuit by three couples whose frozen embryos were accidentally destroyed in a clinic by a patient who went into an unsecured storage area, has sparked widespread concerns among IVF patients and providers about the broader potential impact on a range of fertility treatments.

Here are six of the key questions raised by the court’s decision:

1. How will the ruling affect families who have embryos stored in an Alabama fertility clinic?

To increase the chance of a successful pregnancy, when sperm and mature eggs are combined in a lab to create an embryo in the IVF process, extra embryos are typically created. They are often frozen and stored. But if embryos are found to have genetic defects, or patients do not wish to have any more children, they are frequently discarded.

Following the Alabama court’s finding that people can be held legally responsible for the destruction of embryos under the state’s Wrongful Death Act, families who have embryos stored at an Alabama fertility clinic were left wondering whether they would face legal consequences if their embryos were destroyed during the IVF process.

2. If you’re undergoing IVF outside Alabama, could this change things for you?

Yes. Since some Alabama fertility clinics have paused IVF procedures, nationwide embryo shipping to and from Alabama has been halted as a result, according to a statement from Barbara Collura, president and CEO of Resolve: the National Infertility Association.

“This slight window of hope for Alabamans currently undergoing IVF to continue their family-building treatment in other states just slammed shut,” Collura said.

3. Could people undergoing IVF be forced to pay indefinite storage fees?

Since the ruling found that embryos cannot be destroyed without legal consequences, IVF patients are left wondering if they will need to pay for indefinite embryo storage fees if they don’t wish to have any more children. This can cost anywhere from $350 to $1,000 per year.

4. What will happen to the patient cited in the lawsuit who destroyed the embryos belonging to three couples?

The Mobile, Ala., district attorney’s office didn’t immediately respond to Yahoo News’ inquiry as to whether it has brought charges or plans to bring charges against the person responsible for destroying those embryos.

5. Does this mean IVF could now be considered illegal or that clinics could be shut down?

Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall has “no intention of using the recent Alabama Supreme Court decision as a basis for prosecuting IVF families or providers,” according to a statement from Chief Counsel Katherine Robertson.

Still, while the Alabama court’s decision doesn’t mean IVF treatments are specifically prohibited, it’s proving to have widespread impacts on how fertility clinics operate in the state. As a result, treatment providers and IVF patients fear they will face legal consequences for every instance an embryo would inadvertently be destroyed during the IVF process.

6. Could this ruling be overturned, or altered by legislation?

It’s unlikely that this ruling could be overturned because state supreme court cases can be appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court only when they rely on the U.S. Constitution. The Alabama court’s decision relies heavily on the state’s constitution.

However, Alabama lawmakers are currently working to protect IVF programs through legislation.

“Following the ruling from the Alabama Supreme Court, I said that in our state, we work to foster a culture of life,” Republican Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey said in a statement. “Republican colleague in the Legislature Senator Tim Melson, along with Senate and House members, are working on a solution to ensure we protect these families and life itself. I look forward to continue closely following this issue.”