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Louisiana lawmaker shelves IVF protection bill, leaving questions about legal challenges

In this file photo, a container with frozen embryos and sperm stored in liquid nitrogen is removed at a fertility clinic in Fort Myers, Fla., Oct. 2, 2018.
Lynne Sladky
In this file photo, a container with frozen embryos and sperm stored in liquid nitrogen is removed at a fertility clinic in Fort Myers, Fla. on Oct. 2, 2018.

This story was originally published by the Louisiana Illuminator.

Legislation aimed at ensuring in vitro fertilization (IVF) treatment continues to be legal in Louisiana in spite of a strict abortion ban has been scuttled over language the state’s powerful anti-abortion lobby refused to remove from the bill.

State Rep. Paula Davis, R-Baton Rouge, said Tuesday she is shelving House Bill 833 aimed at protecting access to in vitro fertilization (IVF) treatment in Louisiana, but she plans to bring back the legislation in 2025.

She could not convince her fellow lawmakers to drop a reference to embryos being “biological human beings,” from the legislation. The characterization would have left doctors and other medical providers offering IVF open to criminal charges and civil lawsuits, according to attorneys she consulted.

Murder and other crimes are defined as the killing or hurting of “human beings” in Louisiana law. By also defining embryos as “human beings,” lawmakers would leave the door open to prosecuting IVF medical providers if embryos were damaged or destroyed, according to some attorneys.

Anti-abortion lawmakers who dominate the Louisiana Legislature refused to strike the “human being” reference from the bill at Davis’ request earlier this month. Louisiana Right to Life, the state’s largest anti-abortion organization, would likely have opposed the bill without the language.

The U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade two years ago triggered Louisiana’s abortion ban that now potentially threatens IVF services, according to doctors and abortion rights groups.

Louisiana, like several other conservative states, already has language in state law that is meant to equate embryos to a child, which could open the state up to a legal battle over IVF even without the legislation. The current law states a “fertilized human ovum is a human being.” A fertilized ovum is another way of describing an embryo.

The Alabama state Supreme Court earlier this year temporarily halted IVF services in that state when it equated the destruction of frozen embryos to living children under the law. A divorce case in Texas could also have a large impact on the fertility treatment offered there.

As it is, Louisiana already puts some of the country’s tightest restrictions on IVF due to the concerns of anti-abortion advocates.

In Louisiana, clinics and fertility patients cannot dispose of embryos. Instead, they have to send them to another state to have them destroyed. No other state in the country has such a limitation.

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