As IVF threat looms in Alabama, patients over 35 or with serious illnesses worry about their future | Trending Viral hub

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Corinn O’Brien, 37, is about two months pregnant through in vitro fertilization, but an ultrasound recently showed the fetus could be in trouble and she wants to have the option to try again if necessary.

Cancer survivor Kailani Greenwood, who is due to give birth in the spring after undergoing IVF, hopes to have more children in the future and has four frozen embryos in storage.

But Alabama women who represent two groups most likely to turn to IVF to start the families they desperately want — women over 35 and those with serious illnesses — worry about whether those options will be there when they need them. O’Brien and Greenwood are among the many whose dreams are in limbo after three of Alabama’s largest clinics suspended IVF services in the wake of a state Supreme Court ruling that described frozen embryos as “children extrauterine”.

“It’s been difficult,” O’Brien said, his voice breaking. “I have no idea what will happen next and that’s really scary.”

It is estimated that 1 in 6 people are affected by infertility worldwide. In the United States, women are increasingly delaying childbearing even though fertility gradually declines after age 30, particularly after age 35. That raises the need for treatments like IVF. Women ages 35 to 44 are more than twice as likely as younger women to say they have used fertility services, according to a 2023 Pew Research Center survey.

In addition to the growing ranks of older patients, doctors point to a smaller but significant number of women facing treatment for conditions such as cancer, lupus and sickle cell anemia and who want to preserve their fertility.

In Alabama, doctors say many of these women are in a holding pattern or seeking help out of state. Some are also pushing for a legislative solution, and on Thursday state lawmakers advanced legislation that would protect the clinics from prosecutions and civil lawsuits. Lawmakers hope to get the measures to the governor this week.

But some doctors and patients worry that they don’t go far enough and that legislation or court rulings in other states could eventually put IVF at risk more broadly.

Dr. Beth Malizia, a Greenwood doctor at Alabama Fertility, a clinic that suspended services, said the upheaval has made life even more difficult for women who are already struggling.

“Look, no one wants to be in our clinic. …No one chooses fertility issues. Nobody chooses cancer. “No one chooses recurrent pregnancy loss,” she said. “We are trying to provide the best care possible and this decision has really limited us in our ability to do that. “We just want to grow families.”

After losing her mother to pancreatic cancer and having no brothers or sisters to turn to, O’Brien realized how important it was for her young daughter to “have a brother to navigate life with after we’re gone.” “.

The Birmingham woman and her husband had been trying to have a baby for some years and she suffered a dangerous and unviable ectopic pregnancy. She tried several fertility treatments before starting IVF. In October she had ten eggs retrieved and three were fertilized and frozen. Her doctor transferred one of the embryos into her uterus in late January and she became pregnant.

But on the same day the court ruling was announced, an ultrasound showed problems with the fetus’s heartbeat.

“It was kind of a double whammy: This may not work and you may not have access to IVF,” she said.

For Greenwood, IVF is the only way to have children.

The 31-year-old Montgomery woman was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma 11 years ago. She went into remission after chemotherapy, but the cancer returned when she was 25 years old. The resulting radiation, chemotherapy, and stem cell transplant led to infertility. So she had her eggs extracted and frozen.

Being a mother “is something I have always dreamed of my entire life,” she said.

Last year, Greenwood became pregnant with her little girl through an embryo transfer and is now in her third trimester. However, she does not want to limit herself to just one child. “I definitely want at least two, if not more,” she said.

He has been trying to hold out hope that IVF will resume at his clinic. But every day brings new reminders of the court decision in her work as a physician assistant in breast surgical oncology, where many of her patients hope to preserve their fertility.

Dr. Kara Goldman, medical director of fertility preservation at Northwestern Medicine in Chicago, said older patients and those with serious illnesses face different challenges.

Cancer patients, for example, urgently need cancer treatment. This means they must start taking medications to prepare for egg retrieval almost immediately. They can choose to freeze their eggs or fertilize them and freeze the embryos, which have a higher chance of surviving the thaw later.

Older patients face a decreasing chance of pregnancy and an increasing chance of chromosomal abnormalities in their offspring the longer they wait. The time it can take to get pregnant often takes an emotional toll.

“When you’re ready to have a child, every month that you’re not pregnant feels like a shame,” said Goldman, 41, who had her 9-month-old son through IVF.

Doctors said the turmoil in Alabama has deepened the pain of many.

Dr. Mamie McLean, O’Brien’s doctor, said a patient in her 40s who desperately wants a second child had a failed IVF cycle and wanted to start the process again this month. She’s considering doing that in Georgia.

“She would rather stay in Alabama,” McLean said. “But she also knows that time is not on her side.”

Dr. Jennifer Kawwass, medical director at Emory Reproductive Center in Atlanta, said she is already seeing an influx of patients from Alabama and many are stressed.

“Fertility treatment already puts patients under a lot of social and financial stress,” he said. “The unexpected, sort of indefinite pause, of IVF in Alabama is compounding this.”

Without insurance, an IVF cycle costs between $15,000 and $25,000. Travel and accommodation costs can add up to thousands of dollars more, especially since an IVF cycle requires six to 10 visits over two weeks.

As patients consider their options and push for solutions in Alabama, they and their doctors also hope that threats to IVF don’t spread to other states.

“I hope that as a country we can come together on the fact that these treatments are really about helping people build families and bring life into this world,” Kawwass said. “It’s kind of ironic and also tragic that this is actually hurting people who are trying to start their families.”

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Reporter Kim Chandler contributed to this report from Montgomery, Alabama.

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The Associated Press Health and Science Department receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Science and Educational Media Group. The AP is solely responsible for all content.

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