Embryo bills look at legal limitations

ATLANTA -- In the wake of news reports about a mother of six who gave birth to eight babies after receiving implanted embryos, two bills about embryos are stirring interest this week in the General Assembly.

 

Groups on both sides of the abortion debate are watching the legislation, but because the measures were just introduced last month and are unlike any in the country, public statements so far have been few.

One bill would limit the number of eggs that could be fertilized to three, and only that number could be implanted in the woman. The other bill creates a legal mechanism for the adoption of embryos.

Sen. Ralph Hudgens, R-Hull, introduced Senate Bill 169 to prevent a situation in Georgia in which an unemployed woman gives birth to eight babies.

"I think it's unforgivable," Mr. Hudgens said. "Here this woman's already got six children. She doesn't have a house. She's living with her mother. She's unemployed, and these babies have become a burden on the state of California."

He blames the doctor who implanted the embryos for an ethical lapse, but he wants to prevent it here with a law.

The anti-abortion group, Georgia Right to Life, asked Mr. Hudgens to introduce the bill, and some opponents worry privately its broad language will have far-reaching impact on abortion and stem-cell research and make it harder for infertile couples to conceive .

Rep. James Mills, R-Gainesville, introduced the adoption measure, House Bill 388, to address the 20,000 or more frozen embryos in Georgia that donors have no intention of using.

"I do not believe that an embryo, especially a frozen embryo, should be compared to a Popsicle or an ice cube in the refrigerator," he said. "I believe there are two different values. Clearly you cannot adopt a Popsicle. I think there should be a mechanism by which you can adopt an embryo."

T here are few laws, court cases or regulations governing in vitro fertilization , leaving most fertility clinics to their own moral guidance, said Jerri Nims Rooker, the associate director of the Center for Law, Health & Society at Georgia State University Law School.

"Because it's not a highly regulated field, clinics can do whatever they want," she said.

Many clinics harvest 10-18 eggs from the woman because of the expense of repeated procedures should the first attempt fail. Then they will fertilize all of the harvested eggs since embryos survive better frozen.

Doctors typically implant multiple embryos because the chances of success are so slim, Ms. Nims Rooker said.

However, she said neither of these bills is likely to change abortion law .

"The abortion debate is a very different issue because it centers around the woman's interest and the state's interest in protecting human life," she said. "In the case of embryos ... I don't think they're linked here on legal argument because you're not talking about limiting any other entity's legal rights."

What's next?

House Bill 388 faces a hearing today at 2 p.m. before a subcommittee of the House Judiciary Committee. A hearing on Senate Bill 169 before the Senate Health & Human Services Committee will be held Thursday.