Alabama patients pray for a change of heart on access to in vitro fertilization

(CNN) — After trying to have a baby for two years, Paula Jean Hardin and her husband Wes were finally going to begin in vitro fertilization, a way to increase their family that Hardin believed to be part of God’s plan.

But a new state Supreme Court decision, which Hardin says was based on her beliefs, unexpectedly led some Alabama fertility clinics to halt services, putting her dreams — and those of many others — in jeopardy. Alabama Families – In Suspense.

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Paula Jean Hardin, along with her husband Wes, called the situation “frustrating” and “heartbreaking.” (Credit: Hardin Family)

“It’s disappointing, sad and heartbreaking,” Hardin said Thursday, the same day her clinic, Alabama Fertility Specialists, announced it was temporarily suspending in vitro fertilization, or IVF, treatments because of legal risk.

The court’s Feb. 16 decision, declaring frozen embryos to be children under the state’s Wrongful Death of Child Act, was based on the belief that “life begins at conception.” Justice Jay Mitchell in the majority opinion. Supreme Court Chief Justice Tom Parker wrote in a concurring opinion that “human life cannot be unjustly destroyed without incurring the wrath of a holy God” and cited the Bible.

Hardin, a 36-year-old preschool teacher in Tuscaloosa, said the belief that life begins at conception is also an important part of her faith, but she emphasized that she does not believe it is incompatible with IVF.

“I’m a big follower of Jesus,” said Hardin, who leads a group at her church for people struggling with fertility issues. I’m sure I’m pro-life – I think it happens at conception – but I also don’t think if we did IVF and it failed the first time – because sometimes it doesn’t work – that would make me a murderer. Or it will make the doctor part of the murder.

“I don’t understand it,” he said, “and I don’t see how they do either.”

IVF involves the fertilization of a human egg in the laboratory and often the creation of multiple embryos, with the goal of transferring the most likely to become a child into the uterus. The process usually creates more embryos than can be used immediately. Those embryos are kept frozen until they can be transferred in the hope that they will lead to a new pregnancy, donated or discarded.

However, with the ruling that the frozen embryos are boys, Hardin’s clinic — along with two others in the state, the University of Alabama at Birmingham and the Center for Reproductive Medicine — said they would suspend IVF treatment.

The legal limit made members of Hardin’s church group lean more on each other, he said.

“The reason we created this little group is because there were so many people who were going through fertility issues and doing it themselves, and not talking about it,” Hardin said. “Right now we’re sticking to each other.”

Another member of the group, Lauren Plitz, hoped she would eventually undergo an embryo transfer when clinics stopped IVF treatment.

“We’ve already suffered a lot of heartbreak,” Plitz said. “Right now it feels like we’re being punished for being infertile.”

Plitz, 35, who suffers from endometriosis, which can make pregnancy difficult, has been battling infertility for three years. In July, she and her husband began the process of in vitro fertilization, including egg retrieval and embryo freezing, before undergoing hip surgery for a genetic condition.

She spoke to CNN the night before a doctor’s appointment where she hoped to be cleared to transfer an embryo into her uterus.

“It has been a very long and treacherous journey,” he said.

Hardin and Plitz said their hope now rests on a state law that would protect IVF by clarifying that an embryo is not considered human before it is implanted in the uterus.

“It’s our hope, that this bill will move forward, hopefully very quickly, and that we can move forward with our plan as we’ve been preparing,” Plitz said. “I think a fetus would really need a uterus to become a baby.”

Otherwise, they both said, they might consider IVF out of state, though Hardin noted that her family’s insurance wouldn’t cover the tens of thousands of dollars if she did.

Hardin relies on his faith for guidance and quotes a passage from the Bible.

“Romans 8:28 says God works all things for good, and I believe it will all work out, but it’s sad that we have to fight for our right to have a family,” he said. As a preschool teacher, she added, “I love babies and babies, and I want to have my own.”

CNN’s Isabel Rosales and Amanda Musa contributed to this report

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