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Alabama voters weigh in on frozen embryo ruling


An Alabama Supreme Court decision that gives frozen embryos the same legal standing as children has upended the landscape for reproductive rights in America. And the ruling effectively halted in vitro fertilization care in the state, something that Alabama voters are considering today as they cast their Super Tuesday ballots. Here's NPR's Stephen Fowler in Mobile.

STEPHEN FOWLER, BYLINE: It's Super Tuesday, and Ollie Davison considers himself a super voter, but he's not super enthused by the weather at the polling place in Mobile's Toulminville neighborhood.

OLLIE DAVISON: It is looking nasty - wet, rainy, very, very chilly weather on election day, Super Tuesday.

FOWLER: Davison, who was out volunteering with the Alabama Democratic Conference, is also not super enthused that access to in vitro fertilization has become a controversial subject in recent weeks.

DAVISON: It makes me want to get out more. It makes me want to grab 10 other people and bring them to the polls with me, people who had never voted before or people who are on the fence about voting. It makes me want to do - stand in the rain at Michael Figures Park and say, hey, vote for these candidates because these are the best candidates.

FOWLER: When frozen embryos at a Mobile clinic were accidentally destroyed by a patient, families filed a wrongful death suit. When the conservative Alabama Supreme Court eventually took up the case, it found, under state law, that those embryos had the same rights as a child in the womb. That finding set off a firestorm of commentary and real-world consequences, 23-year-old Emerson Woodall said after casting her ballot.

EMERSON WOODHALL: It's really - I mean, you already kind of saw, like, the IVF clinics are, like, having to scale back because if you're putting these doctors at liability for millions of frozen cells, you know, they can't put their jobs on the line to continue doing this.

FOWLER: Alabama families using IVF have been left in limbo, worried about what comes next, while politicians across the aisle have weighed in. Donald Trump used a campaign stop in South Carolina last month to read a statement supporting IVF and urge Alabama lawmakers to act to reopen the clinics. Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra made visits to the state to hear from families affected by the ruling. That includes Elizabeth Goldman, who also showed up to the statehouse last week to give lawmakers a human face to a debate about abstract legislation.

ELIZABETH GOLDMAN: I want people to know, at the end of the day, that whether they're a Republican or a Democrat, that they're dealing with people's lives, and it's not just a decision that they need to make lightly.

FOWLER: Goldman, who was also the first Alabama woman to receive a uterine transplant, says it's important that politicians who don't know much about IVF fully consider the consequences of their actions.

GOLDMAN: They need to really understand that, at the end of the day, it's affecting not only my family, but everyone else's family that's trying to go through the IVF process, too.

FOWLER: Goldman is not your average voter when it comes to thinking about IVF and legislation, but she says it's all the more reason to speak out about how the court's decision and legislature's follow-up affects the ability for families to have kids in the future. Both chambers of the Alabama legislature proposed bills that answer some of the questions posed by the state Supreme Court ruling, and a final version could get approved this week. But following the U.S. Supreme Court's decision to overturn Roe v. Wade in 2022 and now controversy over IVF, the larger conversation about reproductive rights will continue to play a prominent role in how voters view this November's election.

Stephen Fowler, NPR News, Mobile, Ala. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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Stephen Fowler
Stephen Fowler is a political reporter with NPR's Washington Desk and will be covering the 2024 election based in the South. Before joining NPR, he spent more than seven years at Georgia Public Broadcasting as its political reporter and host of the Battleground: Ballot Box podcast, which covered voting rights and legal fallout from the 2020 presidential election, the evolution of the Republican Party and other changes driving Georgia's growing prominence in American politics. His reporting has appeared everywhere from the Center for Public Integrity and the Columbia Journalism Review to the PBS NewsHour and ProPublica.