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Virginia mom furious on Alabama IVF ruling: ‘My children would not be here’

Crystal Graham
family concept two boys IVF twins
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The Alabama Supreme Court’s ruling that frozen embryos are human beings in a wrongful death lawsuit shut down in vitro fertilization treatments in the state, and left clinics, providers and couples wishing to start a family reeling in the aftermath.

The Supreme Court decision was in response to wrongful death lawsuits filed by three sets of parents whose frozen embryos were destroyed after a patient allegedly removed them from a freezer and dropped them.

As a result of the controversial ruling, many fertility providers in Alabama immediately paused IVF services regardless of what stage of treatment couples were in.

The backlash against the decision was immediate as many in the nation viewed the decision of the court as an attack on reproductive freedoms.

In response to the ruling, it seems likely that the Alabama House and Senate will ultimately pass a bill to provide legal protections to health care entities that provide IVF services. On Thursday, the Alabama House and Senate voted overwhelmingly to do so. The individual bills now go to the opposite chamber for consideration.

Some experts, however, wonder who has the legal authority in Alabama: the Supreme Court or the state legislature? And will that uncertainty keep IVF treatment in the state on hold indefinitely?

The impact beyond Alabama

According to John Hopkins, there are more than 1 million frozen embryos throughout the United States. The Alabama ruling may lead IVF clinics across the nation to begin to question whether they could be liable for any destroyed embryos based on the legal precedent set in the Alabama court case.

Bioethicists, legal scholars and reproductive technology specialists feared after the reversal of Roe v. Wade that if life was regulated at the moment of conception, there could be implications for IVF.

U.S. Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA) has introduced the Reproductive Freedom for All Act in Congress – a bipartisan bill that Kaine said would re-establish the rights of women since the Roe v. Wade case.

“There are 12 million people walking this planet who were born via IVF,” Kaine said Wednesday in a weekly call with reporters. “They’re living their lives. They’re pursuing careers. They’re having their own families. Imagine the collective impact that these 12 million people have had on their families and on their communities and on the world.

“We should not be as legislators making it harder for people to grow families, raise children, be parents, and I’m going to do everything I can to make sure that we stand with the people who want to be parents.”

U.S. Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA) said Thursday that what happened in Alabama could happen anywhere in the nation. Despite Republicans appearing to want to protect IVF, Warner said the bill that was put forward in Congress this week to address women’s reproductive rights was objected to.

“I think it’s more than a bit of a hypocrisy that a Republican Party that claims that it is pro-life doesn’t seem to be pro-family, in terms of women being able to have access to IVF techniques.

“Unfortunately, this is a trend since the Dobbs decision, that if you care about women’s healthcare, if it doesn’t concern you, it should, and those of us who stand firmly with women, their families, their doctors, in making these healthcare decisions, we’ll do all we can to protect IVF on a national level, but also protect women’s healthcare rights, which I’m glad to say at least in Virginia has been maintained by the current Democratic General Assembly.”

Fishersville mom: ‘If it wasn’t for IVF, my children would not be here’

The controversy hits close to home for an Augusta County couple with 14-year-old twin boys.

Cristin and Kurt Sprenger had fertility issues when they attempted to start their family. They had seven rounds of artificial insemination that failed before exploring IVF as a possible way to conceive children of their own. They had a 40 percent chance that the IVF treatment would be successful on the first try. They listened to their doctor’s advice and ended up freezing two embryos just in case.

Cristin sat down with AFP this week to talk about their journey and the decision to move forward with the IVF procedure.

“I have one life, I’m having kids, so we made the decision that we were going to try to have our own,” she said.

If that didn’t work, they would have likely explored adoption.

For a family desperate for children of their own, she said, they were excited when they found out she was pregnant after the first IVF treatment.

“The doctor said, oh, congratulations, you’re having twins.”

At the time of their IVF, they were given the choice of what to do with their frozen embryos if they chose not to use them: donate them to an anonymous couple, donate them to science or have them destroyed. They chose to donate them.

“We really feel like after all that we went through that if we could help someone else, we wanted to do that,” she said.

In Alabama, IVF treatments were paused last week due to the Supreme Court ruling – no matter what phase of the treatment the couple was in. Sprenger said she would have been devastated if this had happened to them.

“I’ve been furious ever since this happened,” Sprenger said. “I knew when Roe v. Wade was overturned that this was going to become an issue. I feel that couples should be able to have IVF as an opportunity to have a family.”

She said it’s not as simple as going to another state to receive the treatment. As someone who has been through IVF, she said she was at the hospital every day for two weeks. She said she’d be angry if she had frozen embryos and couldn’t use them all of the sudden due to a court decision.

“I think it could very easily be solved if the people who are making the legislation understood the scientific process, and understood, a baby and an embryo are two different things. An embryo cannot survive on its own.

“Every couple should have the right to be able to create a family, and fertility issues are a real thing,” Sprenger said. “If it wasn’t for IVF, my children would not be here.”

Their children, Alex and Peter, are eighth-grade students at Wilson Middle School. Alex is into theater and gaming, and his mom thinks he’d make a great video game creator. Peter plays soccer, is a math wiz and wants to be an aerospace engineer.

“My parents have grandchildren that they love. My sister has two nephews that she loves,” Sprenger said. “Why should anyone not have that opportunity?”

Fertility decisions should be between a woman and her doctor, Sprenger said. Not legislators. Not the General Assembly. Not the Supreme Court.

“I think it’s disgusting, and I think it’s about controlling women,” she said. “To me, uninformed people, mostly men, making these decisions for women is wrong, because they have never carried a baby.

“It’s really hard when you want to have a child, and you’ll do whatever you can to have a child. You need to work with your partner and your doctor to do what’s best for you.”

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Crystal Graham

Crystal Graham

Crystal Abbe Graham is the regional editor of Augusta Free Press. A 1999 graduate of Virginia Tech, she has worked for nearly 25 years as a reporter and editor for several Virginia publications, written a book, and garnered more than a dozen Virginia Press Association awards for writing and graphic design. She was the co-host of "Viewpoints," a weekly TV news show, and co-host of Virginia Tonight, a nightly TV news show. Her work on "Virginia Tonight" earned her a national Telly award for excellence in television.