On Point submissions are individual member viewpoints and not North Carolina Medical Society policy.

Amy Bryant MD
MSCR, At Large Member of the Executive Committee, NCOGS


Not even a week after the Alabama Supreme Court gave unprecedented and medically unnecessary protections to frozen embryos, several IVF clinics in the state had already halted services, afraid in this dangerous new setting to provide the healthcare they are trained to provide.  This disruption to healthcare for people trying to build their families is unconscionable.

Rulings such as the one from the Alabama Supreme Court have an undeniably chilling effect on medical practice. Physicians are trained to provide evidence-based care, and care for patients at their most vulnerable moments. They did not train to understand the nuances of criminal law and precious few want to risk felony charges that could rob them of their ability to support their families and future patients, or even land them in prison.

This bodes poorly for the healthcare workforce in Alabama which already struggles to keep its physician workforce. Alabama also has one of the highest rates of maternal and  infant mortality in the nation in the country, with outcomes worse for Black infants and mothers. Over 34% of its counties are “maternity deserts” without adequate access to obstetric care.  Further restricting and intimidating physicians, who provide reproductive and primary care, and may also need reproductive services themselves, is counterproductive to improving health outcomes.

Why would people who purportedly care about life at all stages want to put so many people in harm’s way? What about the health and lives of those who need assisted reproductive technology to grow their families? Or those who need contraception or abortion to have a healthy family?  It seems that protecting life is not in fact the actual goal.  Relegating those who can get pregnant to mere vessels is not meant to protect life, it is a means of coercion and control.

The tactics at play in this case are sadly all too familiar. They are an extension of the tactics that place medically unnecessary restrictions on abortion. This ruling shows that anti-science politicians never intended to stop at abortion. This new type of interference in reproductive healthcare clearly exposes anti-abortion intentions to continue to restrict bodily autonomy, no matter the circumstances.  Banning contraception is the next logical step, and even talked about openly in some state legislatures.

Anti-science politicians and judges-most often with no medical training- but with a clear, ideological agenda to control and coerce women, are a serious threat to the healthcare system. This is just not right in a multi-faceted, pluralistic, democratic society where many viewpoints and religious beliefs have the right to coexist.

The Alabama Supreme Court’s ruling will fortunately not affect North Carolina. But this ruling should be deeply troubling to all of us, not only because of the devastating impact on people seeking to grow their families using assisted reproductive technology in Alabama. This ruling could embolden other states to pass similar legislation.

North Carolina physicians should take note. The fantasy world of full personhood for embryos that is embodied by rulings such as this does not bode well for our actual patients or healthcare system. Patients and physicians should be allowed to make decisions regarding their fertility based on their personal values and beliefs, not those imposed by the state.  A state that sanctions these deeply unpopular intrusions into people’s lives, based on the religious views of a subset of its population, will find itself without the healthcare workforce it needs to have a thriving population.