life after roe

Florida Lawmakers Pause Bill That Could Threaten IVF

March For Reproductive Rights Held In Los Angeles In Response To Abortion Pill Ruling
Photo: Mario Tama/Getty Images

The Florida legislature has postponed a bill that abortion-rights advocates believe was a backdoor attempt to establish fetal personhood in the state following backlash to Alabama’s IVF ruling. While conservative lawmakers in Alabama and elsewhere are now discussing legislation that would protect IVF providers and patients at the state level, Republicans in Congress have been distancing themselves from measures that would extend these protections nationally, increasing scrutiny on related measures up for consideration this session.

Florida’s SB 476 would allow parents to file civil lawsuits and receive financial damages for the wrongful death of a fetus, regardless of gestational age. More than two dozen states have laws that allow for some civil recourse in similar wrongful death cases, but they require that a pregnancy is at the stage where the fetus could potentially survive outside the womb, which experts estimate happens around 24 weeks of gestation. The Florida bill, however, defines “unborn child” as a “member of the species Homo sapiens, at any stage of development, who is carried in the womb.”

Its sponsors made that clarification in an attempt to curb fears that the measure would interfere with infertility treatments and other assisted reproductive technologies. But the Alabama Supreme Court decision earlier this month, which established that frozen embryos are considered children under state law, has created a political firestorm for Republicans in the last week. Several fertility clinics in the state have stopped services and patients are rushing to ship their embryos elsewhere. Many voters see the Court’s decision as a consequence of the overturning of Roe v. Wade, which has empowered far-right lawmakers to push for legislation that declares life begins at conception.

Though SB 476 will not move forward in the remaining two weeks of the legislative session, the anti-abortion group Florida Voice for the Unborn praised the decision to pull the bill from consideration because they want it further amended to cover “those unborn children frozen as embryos.” The group expects the legislation to be reintroduced and passed next year.

The controversy over the bill comes as abortion rights in Florida hang in the balance. The Republican-controlled state Supreme Court could rule at any moment on whether Florida’s 15-week ban violates its constitution. At a hearing in September, the justices seemed open to upholding the law. If that’s the case, the ruling would pave the way for a separate six-week ban to take effect and outlaw abortion care before most people know they are pregnant. The Court is also weighing a challenge against a ballot initiative that would enshrine abortion rights in the state Constitution. If the justices allow the measure to appear before voters in November, it’d need more than 60 percent of the vote in order to pass.

Florida Lawmakers Pause Bill That Could Threaten IVF