‘I’m devastated’: Alabama families turn to GoFundMe for help after state ruling halts IVF services

When Heather Maurer first saw on the news that Alabama’s Supreme Court had ruled that frozen embryos could be considered “extrauterine children” under state law, she didn’t think much of it. 

She and her husband, Chris Maurer, had already scheduled an appointment in March to transfer their final embryo — implanting it in the uterus to begin pregnancy — at a fertility center in Birmingham. The pair, who had started the fertility treatments more than four years ago in Alabama before moving to Sacramento, had already bought their flight tickets.

But hours later, Maurer got a call from her doctor.

The clinic was halting all in vitro fertilization procedures until further notice, the doctor told her. Moving the embryos to a different clinic also wouldn’t be possible. Maurer’s plans to have a second child were now in a state of uncertainty.

“I honestly cried for a couple of hours after, just not knowing what to do,” said Maurer, 38. She had her 19-month-old son, Maximus, thanks to IVF treatment in Birmingham.

The Maurers are one of many families that will now see their reproductive care disrupted as a result of the court’s ruling that frozen embryos created during fertility treatments can be considered children under state law. 

In addition to disappointment and confusion regarding the future of their care, some of those families are also facing enormous unexpected expenses as they scramble for a way to continue treatment. Transporting embryos alone can cost thousands of dollars. 

For Maurer, who works as an intensive-care nurse, it would cost about $4,000 to transport her embryos out of the state — if that ends up being possible, she said — plus close to $10,000 to restart treatment in California. That estimate doesn’t include the family-law attorney the pair is considering hiring to help them navigate the state’s new ruling; the lawyer charges $350 an hour plus a $5,000 retainer, Maurer told MarketWatch. 

Maurer’s family has turned to GoFundMe for support, hoping to raise $2,000 to help defray those unexpected costs. As of Tuesday, they had received $550 in donations.

“We waited years already, and now we’re having to pay these legal fees and unnecessary costs to have our embryo [that belongs to me] transferred to us,” Maurer said.

“We’ve already used all our savings for IVF. We just don’t know what to do,” she added. “I’m devastated.”

Why are Alabama families rushing to move embryos? 

The Alabama Supreme Court ruling complicates a treatment that in most cases requires multiple lab-grown embryos for a single viable pregnancy, said Dr. Kara Goldman, an associate professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine. 

During a typical IVF process, doctors collect eggs from a patient. Then, in a lab, those eggs are fertilized and an embryo is grown. 

But “reproduction is inefficient,” Goldman said, and there are many things that could go wrong at each step of the IVF process.

When doctors retrieve eggs, only a portion of them are viable and can yield an embryo. Even for a patient at peak fertility, she said, only about 60% of embryos have no chromosomal abnormalities. 

“It is really critical to the process of IVF to start with a reasonable number of embryos, because we expect attrition,” she said. 

There are more than one million embryos in storage across the U.S., the Wall Street Journal has reported. 

But according to the recent Alabama ruling, those embryos are now considered children under state law. Justices ruled that an 1872 state law allowing parents to sue over the wrongful death of a minor child “applies to all unborn children, regardless of their location.”

Multiple Alabama clinics have halted IVF services as they determine the legal ramifications of the decision. That has led some families to scramble to move their embryos out of Alabama. 

CryoFuture, a California-based company specializing in embryo shipping and storage technology, received “so many requests” from Alabama patients after the ruling, said Devin Monahan, the senior vice president of business development at CryoFuture. 

The company is offering discounted prices for those affected by the ruling — around $500 for shipping, instead of the usual $800 to $1,200 — and is beginning to schedule transports for the requests it received, Monahan told MarketWatch.

In a state where residents already have relatively limited access to fertility care — clinics are sparser in Alabama, and the state doesn’t require that private insurers cover fertility treatments — the ruling complicates a very personal medical process for many families, Goldman said. 

“The fact that this is being legislated is fundamentally troublesome. In fact, that’s such an understatement,” she said. “Patients are truly being held hostage by this.” 

‘I’ve never been so disappointed’

When Caroline Veazey, 30, heard the news of the court ruling, she was “dumbfounded, but not scared,” she told MarketWatch. 

But once clinics began halting treatments, she panicked and quickly began adding up what it might cost to move her six healthy embryos out of her clinic in Birmingham. 

Given that it cost her about $2,000 to get one vial of sperm shipped to begin her treatment  — Veazey and her partner are one of the many same-sex couples pursuing IVF — she knew the costs would be significant. That’s when she decided to launch her GoFundMe page, which has raised about $6,100 as of Tuesday morning. 

“In my mind, I was thinking, ‘I don’t even have that big of a circle; I’m probably going to get like $100,’” said Veazey. “But I thought that I really need to try.”

Even if Veazey, a licensed professional counselor, can raise enough funds to help defray the costs, there may be other obstacles. Her clinic informed her that it has to alter the paperwork required to authorize the embryos’ release before Veazey can have them transported elsewhere.

“I know my clinic has to be careful,” Veazey said. “But I want my embryos out of Alabama ASAP.”

“I have no access to what my body went through and, amazingly, created,” she continued. “In my wildest dreams, I never could have imagined something like this would happen.”

Alabama lawmakers have rushed to pass legislation that would protect IVF services in the state, CBS reported, drafting separate proposals in the state House and Senate that seek to prevent a fertilized egg from being recognized as a human life.

In the meantime, women like Veazey remain in emotional and financial limbo. 

“One minute I’m angry; the next, I’m in tears,” she said. “I’ve never been so disappointed in the state of Alabama.” 

Zoe Han contributed. 

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