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After siding with Alabama ruling that embryos are children, Haley defends IVF access

caption: Republican presidential candidate former UN Ambassador Nikki Haley waits as she's introduced at a campaign rally on Tuesday in Clemson, S.C.
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Republican presidential candidate former UN Ambassador Nikki Haley waits as she's introduced at a campaign rally on Tuesday in Clemson, S.C.

Updated February 22, 2024 at 1:29 PM ET

Republican presidential candidate Nikki Haley sided with an Alabama Supreme Court ruling that frozen embryos are considered children, a decision that could have sweeping implications for in-vitro fertilization and reproductive health care across the country. "Embryos, to me, are babies," Haley said in an interview Wednesday with NBC News. "When you talk about an embryo, you are talking about, to me, that's a life. And so I do see where that's coming from when they talk about that."

When asked about Haley's comments Wednesday, a campaign spokesperson pointed to a Thursday Newsmax interview.

"Be very careful how you do this because number one, you don't want to take those fertility treatments away from women. It is very important that women like me have the ability to have that blessing of a baby," Haley clarified.

"But you also want to treat those embryos with respect – whoever is holding them – and make sure that there's a clear indication of what is expected from the parents who provide it, and what's expected from the provider that holds them," she confirmed.

The Alabama case involved a pair of wrongful death lawsuits brought by couples whose frozen embryos were destroyed in an accident at a fertility clinic, according to the Associated Press. Writing for the court majority, Justice Jay Mitchell said nothing excludes "extrauterine children" from a state law governing the wrongful death of a minor. "Unborn children are 'children' ... without exception based on developmental stage, physical location, or any other ancillary characteristics," Mitchell wrote in the decision issued Friday. The decision could have wide-ranging ripple effects on the legality of and access to IVF. During the process of in-vitro fertilization, embryos are created in a lab using a couple's egg and sperm, and then implanted. But more embryos are typically created than are implanted, and instead can be stored, donated, or destroyed, said Mary Ziegler, a UC Davis Professor of Law who has written extensively about abortion law.

"Some anti-abortion groups argue that if an embryo was a person, every single embryo created has to be implanted, either in that person who's pursuing IVF, or some other person who 'adopts the embryo,'" Ziegler told NPR's All Things Considered. "So as a result of that, it may radically change how IVF works, how cost effective it is, and how effective it is in allowing people to achieve their dream of parenthood."

In light of the court ruling, Alabama's largest hospital network, the University of Alabama at Birmingham health system, has paused its IVF treatments "as it evaluates the Alabama Supreme Court's decision."

"We are saddened that this will impact our patients' attempt to have a baby through IVF, but we must evaluate the potential that our patients and our physicians could be prosecuted criminally or face punitive damages for following the standard of care for IVF treatments," a UAB spokesperson said in a statement. Barbara Collura, President and CEO of RESOLVE: The National Infertility Association, called the court's ruling, and the move by UAB, "horrifying signals of what's to come across the country." "Less than a week after the Alabama Supreme Court's devastating ruling, Alabamans in the midst of seeking treatment have had their lives, their hopes and dreams crushed," Collura said in a statement. "We will continue to fight to maintain and increase access to care for the 1 in 6 adults nationwide who struggle with infertility."

Alabama Fertility Specialists announced on its Facebook page Thursday that it would also be pausing new IVF treatments "due to the legal risk to our clinic and our embryologists."

Haley has in the past discussed her struggles with infertility, and told NBC on Wednesday that she conceived her children through artificial insemination, a process that does not involve creating embryos in a lab.

Throughout the campaign, Haley has said she is "unapologetically pro-life," but called on the GOP to show "compassion" and "find consensus" on the issue of abortion. [Copyright 2024 NPR]

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