Court rules embryos are legally children & IVF advocates are terrified of the consequences

A doctor with embryos
A doctor with embryos Photo: Shutterstock

The Alabama Supreme Court has ruled that embryos have the same legal rights as children in a chilling decision many say could have disastrous effects on in-vitro fertilization (IVF) throughout the country.

The ruling declared that state laws protecting “unborn children” also apply to those “located outside of a biological uterus.” This means that doctors who mishandle embryos or make a mistake that leads one to be destroyed could be charged with murder.

The ruling acknowledged that the decision “will mean that the creation of frozen embryos will end in Alabama” because “no rational medical provider would continue to provide services for creating and maintaining frozen embryos knowing that they must continue to maintain such frozen embryos forever or risk the penalty of a Wrongful Death Act claim for punitive damages.”

This means LGBTQ+ couples, single folks, and those struggling with infertility in the state will lose access to the most common method of assisted reproduction.

The decision is a consequence of the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2022 decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, which put states in charge of abortion rights. Now, as lawmakers debate abortion bans and states increasingly grant legal rights to unborn children, the debate has grown over whether embryos count as human beings or personal property that can be used, donated, or destroyed at will.

“This is exactly what we have been fearful of and worried about where it was heading,” Barbara Collura, CEO of RESOLVE: The National Infertility Association, told USA Today in response to Alabama’s ruling. “We are extremely concerned that this is now going to happen in other states.”

The court’s ruling was the result of two cases in which three couples sued after their embryos were accidentally destroyed when a patient at the hospital where the embryos were stored entered the room through an “unsecured doorway,” according to the lawsuit.

The plaintiffs, whom the court refers to as the “parents of several embryonic children,” claimed the fertility clinic violated the state’s Wrongful Death of a Minor Act.

The judges also seem unconcerned with keeping religion out of the law, invoking several references to Christianity and God in its explanation.

In the ruling, Alabama Chief Justice Tom Parker wrote in an opinion attached to the ruling, “the theologically based view of the sanctity of life adopted by the People of Alabama encompasses the following: (1) God made every person in His image; (2) each person therefore has a value that far exceeds the ability of human beings to calculate; and (3) human life cannot be wrongfully destroyed without incurring the wrath of a holy God, who views the destruction of His image as an affront to Himself… this is true of unborn human life no less than it is of all other human life — that even before birth, all human beings bear the image of God, and their lives cannot be destroyed without effacing his glory.”

And as pro-choice activists feared, anti-abortion groups are already using the ruling to advocate for similar policies in other states. The anti-LGBTQ+ hate group Liberty Counsel announced it used Alabama’s ruling in an advisory opinion it filed with the Florida Supreme Court regarding a proposed constitutional amendment in the state that would protect abortion rights.

The organization stated that “currently, the Florida Constitution protects the rights of a ‘natural person'” and that “Liberty Counsel is using Alabama’s ruling to argue that Florida’s Constitution, like Alabama’s, affirms ‘that an unborn child qualifies as a human life, a human being, and a person.'”

Another anti-abortion group, Live Action, released a statement asking the U.S. Supreme Court to “take notice” of the Alabama decision.

“Each person, from the tiniest embryo to an elder nearing the end of his life, has incalculable value that deserves and is guaranteed legal protection,” said Live Action president and founder Lila Rose. “That basic moral truth is written on our hearts and backed up by basic science found in any reputable biology textbook.”

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