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In Alabama, patients are praying for a change of heart on access to IVF

By Meg Tirrell, CNN

(CNN) — After two years of trying to have a baby, Paula Jean Hardin and her husband, Wes, were finally on their way to starting in vitro fertilization, a path to growing their family that Hardin believed was part of a plan from God.

But a new state Supreme Court decision, which rested partly on beliefs Hardin said she shares, has suddenly led some fertility clinics in Alabama to pause their services, putting her dreams – and those of many other families in Alabama – on hold.

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

The court’s February 16 decision, which declared that frozen embryos are children under the state’s Wrongful Death of a Minor Act, rested in part on the belief that “life begins at fertilization,” Justice Jay Mitchell wrote in the majority opinion. In a concurring opinion, Chief Justice Tom Parker wrote that “human life cannot be wrongfully destroyed without incurring the wrath of a holy God” and quoted from the Bible.

Hardin, a 36-year-old pre-K teacher in Tuscaloosa, said the belief that life begins at conception is an important part of her faith as well, but she emphasized that she didn’t believe it was inconsistent with IVF.

“I am a huge follower of Jesus,” said Hardin, who leads a group at her church for people who’ve had fertility issues. “I am for sure pro-life – like, I think it happens at conception – but I also don’t think that if we were to do IVF and it failed the first time – because sometimes it just doesn’t take – then that would make me a murderer or that would make the doctor part of a homicide.

“I don’t get that,” she said, “and I don’t see how they even get that.”

IVF involves fertilizing human eggs in a lab and often the creation of multiple embryos, with the goal of transferring to the uterus the one with the best chance of growing into a baby. The process often creates more embryos than can be used immediately. Those embryos are kept frozen in storage until they’re transferred in hopes of leading to a new pregnancy, or donated or discarded.

But with the ruling that those frozen embryos are children, 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 pause IVF treatments.

The legal limbo has drawn the members of Hardin’s church group to lean on each other even more, she said.

“The reason why this small group was started is because there were a lot of people going through fertility issues that go through it on their own, and they don’t talk about it,” Hardin said. “We’re clinging to each other right now.”

Lauren Pleitz, another member of the group, was hoping she was finally about to undergo embryo transfer when the clinics paused IVF treatments.

“We have already had so much heartbreak,” Pleitz said. “It just really feels like we’re being punished right now for being infertile.”

Pleitz, 35, who has endometriosis, which can make it harder to get pregnant, has been dealing with infertility for three years, she said. In July, she and her husband started the process for IVF, going through egg retrieval and freezing embryos, before she had hip surgery for a genetic condition.

She spoke with CNN the night before a doctor’s appointment where she hoped to get clearance for an embryo to be transferred to her uterus; now, she said, she wasn’t sure when that might happen.

“It has definitely been a very long, treacherous journey,” she said.

Hardin and Pleitz said their hopes rest now on state legislation that would provide protection for IVF by making clear that embryos aren’t considered human beings before they’re implanted in a uterus.

“That’s our hope, that this bill will go through, hopefully very quickly, and we can just continue moving on with our plan as we were getting ready to do,” Pleitz said. “I believe that an embryo is going to need a uterus to really become a child.”

Otherwise, both said, they might look to have IVF out of state, although Hardin noted that her family’s insurance wouldn’t cover the multithousand-dollar cost if she did.

She’s relying on her faith for guidance, she said, quoting a passage from the Bible.

“Romans 8:28 says that God works all things out for the good, and I think good is going come from this, but it’s sad that we have to fight for our rights to have a family,” she said. As a pre-K teacher, she said, “I love kids, and I love babies, and I want my own.”

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

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