Will frozen embryo storage be impacted by Tennessee's abortion law?

Sara Chambers
Posted at 4:41 PM, Sep 20, 2022

COOKEVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — A Cookeville woman who plans to start in vitro fertilization in Nashville fears providers could be prosecuted for discarding unused frozen embryos.

Fertility doctors told Sara Chambers and her husband they can only have children through IVF. They had hoped to start that process soon.

"We started sharing our journey on TikTok, and we really just wanted to advocate for awareness," Chamber said. “We felt pretty alone in it."

Some of her videos went viral. She raised the question: amid the abortion ban, if they choose to discard their unused embryos after having a baby, could her provider be charged with a felony?

“Actually in the response, I received from my state representative, he said the law it is moot to IVF,” Chambers said. “But then he moved to say that the discarding of embryos is separate, and they do see that as an unborn child as life, even though the fertilization happens outside of the womb, so discarding those embryos is in violation of the law."

NewsChannel 5 contacted a handful of Republican lawmakers on this issue. They deferred to Attorney General Jonathan Skrmetti. NewsChannel 5 asked if he would investigate IVF clinic providers, and his spokesperson replied in a text message to check the statute.

The law defines an unborn child as a homo sapien in all embryonic and fetal stages.

Chambers is frustrated she's getting mixed signals.

"It’s scary, and I would tell anyone going through this process, to reach out to their state representative and demand answers — ask questions. Do what you need to do to feel safe," Chambers said.

Patients also have the option to store frozen embryos indefinitely, but it can be costly.

"How long do we have to carry this financial burden? And will someone help us?" Chambers said.

Some couples plan to go out-of-state for IVF due to confusion about the law and what could happen next.

Chambers said the uncertainty adds an extra layer of anxiety as they try to start a family.

"That’s what we feel like we were put on this earth to do, and to know that we’re just having to go through all of these obstacles, it’s just devastating."

Local IVF clinics tell NewsChannel 5 the new law does not impact patient care. However, they did not elaborate on what happens with frozen embryos.