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Alabama IVF Patient’s Warning to Others Outside the State: “You Are Not Safe”

Web ExclusiveMarch 04, 2024
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We continue our conversation with Alabama-based writer and artist Abbey Crain, who had been receiving in vitro fertilization treatments for about two years when the state Supreme Court issued its controversial ruling that frozen embryos are “children,” opening both patients and medical providers to new legal risks. State lawmakers have since passed protections for IVF providers, but they have not challenged the underlying logic of the court ruling. Crain says IVF is coming under threat as part of a larger Republican assault on reproductive healthcare, warning people outside the state, in a recent Glamour article, that “you are not special and you are not safe” from similar restrictions.

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, bringing you Part 2 of our conversation about the Alabama state Supreme Court’s recent ruling on IVF.

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 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 don’t change the classification of embryos as people. Neither bill even mentions the word “embryo.”

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

For more, we’re joined by Abbey Crain. She’s been undergoing IVF treatments for nearly two years and was preparing to transfer her frozen embryos when the Alabama state Supreme Court ruled frozen embryos will now be considered children. On Thursday, she traveled to the White House to meet with Vice President Kamala Harris in a private meeting.

In a Glamour piece headlined “These Embryos Are Five Years’ Worth of Money, Sadness and Hope. I Just Want to Be a Mom,” Abbey said, quote, “I want people reading this who don’t live in Alabama to know that you are not special and you are not safe. In Alabama we got the same kind of flack that we are getting right now in 2019 when primarily Black women were leading the charge to maintain our rights to an abortion in the South, specifically in Mississippi and Alabama. And then they used the South — Mississippi — to ban it for everybody two, three, years later. That’s the most recent thing, but this has happened all the time. Alabama is the birth of gynecology and the birth of where Black women were experimented upon, and that’s where a lot of our practices still come from.”

Yes, those are the words of Abbey Crain, who’s joining us from Birmingham, Alabama, for more, undergoing IVF treatment. She’s a artist and a journalist who works with the news site Reckon.

Abbey, follow up on that point you’re making that gynecology began in Alabama. Explain.

ABBEY CRAIN: So, forgive me if I don’t remember the exact details, but I’ve done multiple stories on Alabama being the birthplace of gynecology. You know, I don’t remember his name, and maybe we shouldn’t remember his name, but he experimented on enslaved women in Alabama to coin procedures that are still done today. You know, Alabama has a history of, you know, doing ugly things to the least of these, and sometimes that’s just moms.

AMY GOODMAN: And as you say, usually Black women. Now, I think his name —


AMY GOODMAN: — was Marion Sims, 1813 — 


AMY GOODMAN: — to 1883. He’s often credited with being the father of gynecology, but, to say the least, his practices will, yes, place him in medical history in not a positive light, especially with his experimentation on Black women.

ABBEY CRAIN: Yeah, I do remember two of the names, Lucy and Anarcha. So, I just want to say those names so we remember them, as well.

AMY GOODMAN: And so, here we are in Alabama 2024. And if you can explain whether, when you heard this decision out of the Alabama state Supreme Court, you were surprised? It looks like people across the political spectrum are really shocked at what’s taken place in your state. And I was wondering if you can talk about that shock. The state Legislature has just now passed some laws to protect IVF, but you have concerns about where they’re coming from.

ABBEY CRAIN: Well, to your first point, yes, people were surprised, because people who look like me, white women, many of which have never had the government determine their fate, so, you know, when this happened — so, everybody knows someone who’s been through IVF or infertility experience. It’s not uncommon. And so, from all sides, from primarily women, started to say, you know, “This is not right. This is is not right.” And last Wednesday, there was a rally at our state Capitol, where hundreds of folks were there, including so many people that have never been to the state House, that have never protested anything, that have never, you know, considered themselves political, but have found themselves being able to see how this affects them and people they know and love.

AMY GOODMAN: I’m wondering if you can talk about what you and your husband Colby have been going through for the last five years, because as we talk about IVF, I think most people don’t quite understand what it means, why you go through this and what physically that you go through to get to the point you’re at now, where you have frozen embryos at a clinic that has paused IVF. So, who knows what that means at this point? But talk about these five years.

ABBEY CRAIN: I just — I don’t know where to start, but I’m going to start with what I know. And that is, you know, when the — my first infertility treatment, when I first started taking medication for this, it was the same week that Alabama voted to ban abortion in 2019, should Roe v. Wade be overturned. So I was on this medication, riding the elevator down with state legislators that were fist-bumping their abortion ban, no rape or incest exception.

And, you know, I have a hard time being both a journalist and a patient in this scenario. And I have a hard time not talking about one without the other, so I sometimes use the journalism part as a crutch, because, honestly, it’s easier to talk about that stuff and talk to you right now than it is to think about the reality of my embryos and my motherhood journey being essentially owned by the state and not me.

But, yeah, these last five years have been grueling. I think anyone who’s gone through wanting for a child can understand that it’s an all-consuming feeling. It is an invisible grief. It is multiple shots that either my partner or I give to myself. It’s the hormones that affects both my, you know, mental health medication, as well as my — you know, just my regulation. It’s been weight loss. It’s been weight gain. It’s been canceling vacations because of procedures falling, that have to happen that week. It’s been missing out on holidays and baby showers because it’s too hard to be around the people I love when they have their own children. Yeah, it’s all-consuming. It is this balance of hope and grief. And I know that so many people who have children or are wanting to have children know this balance.

And I just want to reiterate that it’s hard enough without state intervention. And there’s actually literally no need for, you know, my state Supreme Court justice to know this. It’s not anyone’s business out there that I’m telling you this. But I feel like it’s important. I have to.

AMY GOODMAN: It’s true. I can’t believe this isn’t a private conversation we’re having, you know, over —


AMY GOODMAN: — over breakfast coffee, as opposed to talking to millions of people around the world. But that’s what happens when the state gets involved. So, right now — and you’re very brave to speak about what you’re personally going through. So, right now you have frozen embryos in a clinic that has paused IVF. And I asked you in Part 1 of our conversation: Could you take those embryos and bring them to another state?

ABBEY CRAIN: I don’t know that yet. In the release that my clinic sent out to everybody, there was not any language around, you know, really what to do next, or you should look into taking them out of state. I know I have friends and family all over the country begging me to come live with them and, you know, take your embryos in a Yeti cooler, and let’s get out of here. But I just — that’s not even a fair — I mean, yes, it’s a fair question, but it’s not a fair question. Alabama is my home. And I deserve the exact same care as women in New York get for IVF. And —

AMY GOODMAN: It means it would mean — 

ABBEY CRAIN: I don’t want to leave here.

AMY GOODMAN: It would also mean, of course, tremendous amount of money. And that’s a point that you continually make: Who has the resources? Already doing IVF is expensive.



ABBEY CRAIN: Yes, I have no — I don’t have the resources to do that.

AMY GOODMAN: So, this bill that’s been passed in your Legislature, in the Alabama Legislature — you report on women’s reproductive rights and gender issues in Alabama and around the country. So, you’re finding yourself in agreement with Republican state legislators that have banned abortion, but who are now, considering the terrible publicity Alabama is getting, trying to protect IVF, and you support that legislation. So, what are your concerns at this point?

ABBEY CRAIN: I mean, my main concern is the political games. We had a former — and I’m going to butcher the exact information, but Cam Ward, who spoke out, he’s an Alabama — former Alabama legislator who voted for the Alabama abortion bill. He talked about — him and his wife talked about going through IVF. And he talked about it was a political judgment call to make to pass this Alabama abortion ban with the personhood language involved in order to get it to the Supreme Court to overturn Roe v. Wade. And that was his political decision that he made. But what I want people to realize is that these political moves are impacting real-life Americans, real-life Alabamians, and it’s not something that can be taken back as quickly as, you know, providing the IVF caveat. I’m obviously extremely happy that this is being taken seriously and this is being raised to the highest degree. But I don’t think we should let them off that easy.

AMY GOODMAN: This is from Bloomberg. Alabama has a population of more than 5 million people, has only eight clinics across the state, according to the CDC. IVF is often a numbers game. People fertilize as many eggs as possible in hopes that just one will result in a healthy pregnancy. If you can talk about that and what it means if you start talking about frozen embryos as children? Because then, when you do that, you’re talking about, if you don’t use all the frozen embryos, because to have all of them implanted in you would endanger your health, that if you don’t use them, and you want to get rid of them, you’re murdering children.

ABBEY CRAIN: I’m still going to answer, but I’m telling you I’m feeling hesitant because of the way Alabama has prosecuted folks for the outcomes of their pregnancies and can — and like in this law, as well, comes into play.

But, yes, the point, the strategy of IVF is to get as many eggs as you can, fertilize as many eggs as you can, in order to find the healthiest embryos that will most likely result in a healthy pregnancy and a healthy child. So that means there will inevitably be more embryos than there are you want to have children. You know, for some people, that’s like they get five total, and, you know, maybe they want to use three. But for other people, it could be like 20, and of course they’re not going to have 20 children.

So, yeah, there’s these nuanced, complicated, “what is a life” questions happen. They happen. There are plenty of parents who, you know, decide we want to have this many, and they have reservations about what to do with the embryos after. But I want people to know that all of that is so considered by each individual patient and their doctor. These aren’t flippant decisions that we need help with. These are moral medical decisions that are happening in a patient doctor’s office, in homes with partners. They are agonized over. It’s not flippant.

AMY GOODMAN: Your final message at this point? As you’re in the process of IVF, you’re also a journalist who reports on issues like these. In talking about Alabama, where you said, yes, this may be in Alabama now, but no one anywhere is safe, if you think, if you’re in another state, you don’t have anything to worry about.

ABBEY CRAIN: Yes. And that is something I will drive home until the day I die. When my first interview came out with NBC, the responses, I mean, were mostly supportive, but the responses that weren’t were demanding who I voted for and talking about, you know, I’m from Alabama, so I deserve this mess, like I should just leave. And Alabama and the South at large does not deserve to be the redheaded stepchild of our country, because there are people like us in every other state. And like I said in the Glamour piece, there are people who believe this but, you know, might not have a Confederate flag in their neighborhood.

People in Alabama have to work twice as hard to get the same rights that the rest of the country has and that we deserve. And it’s not something we can just vote away. It doesn’t matter a lot of times who or what we vote for in this state. But that doesn’t mean — we deserve the same rights, the same standard of care as the rest of the country.

I just want to point back to, in 2019, when Alabama was one of the first states to create their abortion ban law, and everyone was so quick to pile on and say, “Look how horrible of a place Alabama is to live.” And then we had advocates in the same space saying, “Yeah, and Roe v. Wade is going to be overturned,” and no one believed it. I want to say that Alabama is the canary in the coal mine. We get things about two or three years before y’all. And just like the Alabama abortion ban happened in 2019, Roe v. Wade was overturned in 2022, this is happening with IVF in 2024, and it could be in any other state.

AMY GOODMAN: Abbey Crain, I want to thank you for being with us, Alabama-based journalist and artist undergoing IVF, in vitro fertilization, for — well, for the last five years has been in the process, has frozen embryos in a clinic that has been paused now because of the Alabama state Supreme Court ruling. On Thursday, she met with Vice President Kamala Harris. Abbey Crain reports on women and gender issues for the news outlet Reckon, featured in a Glamour in-her-words piece headlined, “These Embryos Are Five Years’ Worth of Money, Sadness, and Hope. I Just Want to Be a Mom.” To see Part 1 of our discussion, go to I’m Amy Goodman. Thanks so much for joining us.

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

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