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“Enraging”: Meet Abbey Crain, IVF Patient in Midst of Treatment Derailed by Alabama High Court

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Reproductive health and medical groups are asking the Alabama Supreme Court to rehear the case in which the justices ruled frozen embryos should be considered children. The decision sent shockwaves through the world of reproductive medicine regarding potential effects on access to in vitro fertilization and other fertility treatments. We speak with Abbey Crain, a journalist and artist who had been undergoing IVF treatments for nearly two years when the court made its ruling. She says her clinic has paused fertility treatments after the decision. “My first reaction was just sheer rage. I was extremely angry and, honestly, fell apart for a little bit,” says Crain, who describes the impacts of this decision on patients and the politics of reproductive health in the state today. “These men down the street from me who serve on the Alabama Supreme Court have more say over when I choose to become a mother right now than me.”

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!,, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman.

Reproductive health and medical groups have asked the Alabama Supreme Court to revisit its recent ruling that frozen embryos should be considered children. The decision sent shockwaves through the world of reproductive medicine as legal experts and infertility specialists try to address the potential effects on access to IVF — that’s in vitro fertilization — and other fertility treatments. The defendants in the lawsuits, the Center for Reproductive Medicine and the Mobile Infirmary, on Friday filed the petition, and the Medical Association of the State of Alabama and the Alabama Hospital Association filed a brief in support.

Last week, Alabama’s Republican-controlled state House and Senate passed legislation to enact civil and criminal protections for IVF providers, but the bills do not change the classification of embryos as children. Neither bill even mentions the word “embryo.”

This came after a single Republican senator blocked quick passage Friday of a bill to create federal protections for in vitro fertilization. The measure was introduced by Democratic Illinois Senator Tammy Duckworth, who had both of her daughters using IVF. This is Republican Senator Cindy Hyde-Smith of Mississippi, who blocked the bill. But first, Senator Duckworth.

SEN. TAMMY DUCKWORTH: Women willing to go through expensive, painful medical treatments just for a chance to experience the smallest, most banal moments of parenthood, just to have a newborn to swaddle, a baby whose diaper needs to be changed, a toddler who needs their shoes to be tied, and if you believe that they have the right to be called Mom without also being called a criminal, then all you have to do to prove it is to let us pass this “should be obvious” legislation.

SEN. CINDY HYDE-SMITH: The court’s holding in favor of the parents found that these frozen human embryos are children under Alabama law. It did not ban IVF, nor has any state banned IVF. The bill before us today is a vast overreach that is full of poison pills that go way too far, far beyond ensuring legal access to IVF.

AMY GOODMAN: The recent Alabama Supreme Court ruling stems from appeals cases brought by three couples whose frozen embryos at a reproductive clinic in Mobile, Alabama, were accidentally destroyed when a hospital patient dropped them on the floor. In a 7-to-2 decision, the Alabama Supreme Court ruled the couples can now sue the clinic for wrongful death. The decisions partly hinged on anti-abortion language added to the Alabama Constitution in 2018 that says the state recognizes the, quote, “rights of the unborn child,” unquote.

For more, we’re joined in Birmingham, Alabama, by Abbey Crain, journalist and artist who had been undergoing IVF treatments for nearly two years and was preparing to transfer her frozen embryos when the Alabama state Supreme Court ruled that frozen embryos can be considered children. On Thursday, she traveled to the White House to meet with Vice President Kamala Harris for a private meeting. Abbey Crain also reports on women and gender issues for the news outlet Reckon.

We welcome you to Democracy Now!, Abbey. Can you start off by responding to the Alabama Supreme Court ruling? And then talk about how it’s affected you personally.

ABBEY CRAIN: Hi. Thanks for having me.

Yeah, when it first came out, I was aware of the ruling and what they were trying to do. And then, on Wednesday, this past Wednesday, I saw on, actually, social media, on Instagram, that my clinic was pausing in response. You know, my first reaction was just sheer rage. I was extremely angry and, honestly, fell apart for a little bit.

AMY GOODMAN: How does it affect what you’re going through? I mean, I think what’s missing in a lot of the coverage is what people go through when you undergo IVF, the hopes and dreams you have, but also physically what this means.

ABBEY CRAIN: Sure. So, I have been undergoing IVF for the past two years, but I’ve been receiving infertility treatment for the last five years. So, the ups and downs of, you know, injecting yourself with hormones, the ways it affects your mental health, the ways it affects your physical body, the pain of the procedures, you constantly have to be in this — you know, when you’re in it, I say I compartmentalize the hope. When I’m in it, I try to be present and hopeful. But, you know, when I’m taking — when I’ve taken a pause on the procedures, I have to just put it away in order to, you know, put one foot in front of the other and do something else. But I am so fortunate. I am thankful that I was not in the middle of a procedure or on medication currently or had a egg retrieval scheduled. I can’t imagine the folks that were actually in the middle of treatment.

But because we were gearing up to schedule a implantation, the fact that — the fact that these men down the street from me who serve on the Alabama Supreme Court have more say over when I choose to become a mother right now than me, and that’s the reality of things, is I don’t care how quickly that they resolve this, that they put in their exception for IVF. The damage has already been done to folks who are in this, to me personally. I really think they kind of showed their cards.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you move your frozen embryos to another state?

ABBEY CRAIN: I don’t know that yet. Right now all I’ve received from my clinic is just kind of the standard what they’ve been sending everybody and, I think, what most people can access through press releases. Right now I don’t think there are places that will transport them from Alabama, just because I think the transportation companies are looking at things the same way the fertility clinics are, in which they could be liable for embryos that were damaged.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about your meeting with Vice President Harris? What did you talk about? And what do you think of the fact that Congress is trying to protect IVF, and that was blocked? Tammy Duckworth, the senator, who had both her kids by IVF, and the Mississippi senator blocked it.

ABBEY CRAIN: It’s enraging. I found that out while — like, I think it was right after I had met with the vice president. But yeah, I got to have a one-on-one private meeting with her, talking to her about my experience, her talking about how important it is for folks like me to continue speaking on this and sharing our story and showing that the folks in power playing politics, it harms real-life people and affects real, vulnerable, nuanced conversations between patients and doctors.

AMY GOODMAN: Abbey, the Alabama Republican House Representative Terri Collins introduced an IVF protection bill into the Alabama state House. Now, you’re supporting this legislation, but you’re concerned about the record of the state Rep. Collins and other Alabama Republicans on reproductive rights.

ABBEY CRAIN: Yeah, I believe I heard her on this program earlier. You know, she was — she did the 2019 Alabama bill that — or, law that banned abortion, should Roe v. Wade be overturned, with no exceptions to rape and incest. And, you know, it got all into personhood. And I think the cognitive dissonance is enraging, that — you know, I have interviewed this woman, who has children, and to talk about her beliefs on reproductive health. And, you know, she is insistent that life begins at conception. And I don’t understand how these folks are pushing to have their cake and eat it, too, and saying that, you know, these embryos, which weren’t even referenced in the bill, like you said, are humans, while any other reproductive health choice, including abortion and miscarriage, could be affected by Alabama’s current laws on abortion.

AMY GOODMAN: Finally, Abbey, you wrote in Glamour, “I want people reading this who don’t live in Alabama to know that you are not special and you are not safe.” We’re going to begin Part 2 of our conversation and put it online with that point. Abbey Crain is based in Alabama, in Birmingham. She’s a journalist and artist with Reckon. She has been undergoing IVF treatments for nearly two years. She just met with Vice President Kamala Harris. This is Democracy Now! We’ll be back with her online.

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