Alabama Supreme Court rules frozen embryos qualify as “children”

Janine and Jim Eden, Licensed under CC BY 2.0 DEED

The Alabama Supreme Court has ruled that embryos outside of the womb qualify as children in a ruling that further thwarts reproductive freedom in the state. In the 131 page opinion, Alabama judges quoted the Bible before ultimately coming to a 7-2 decision that threatens access to in vitro fertilization (IVF) treatments. 

The case comes after two Alabama couples pursuing IVF sued the Alabama Mobile Infirmary Medical Centre after a patient was able to break into the hospital’s cryogenic facility and subsequently dropped two embryos. The embryos at this stage have been chosen as suitable for possible transfer into the uterus. Even though they have passed this hurdle, they are still 50% likely to fail when transferred. 

The two plaintiffs filed their complaints under Alabama’s Wrongful Death of a Minor Act. The judges used this act as the legal basis for their decision, citing that the “Wrongful Death of a Minor Act applies on its face to all unborn children, without limitation.” This landmark ruling is not only a clear product of a pro-life agenda strengthened by religious beliefs but also serves as a reminder of the strict control that Alabama lawmakers want over reproductive decisions in the state. The ruling goes so far as to suggest that a woman who does not use all of her embryos, if she were to have a successful IVF, could be charged with the manslaughter of the embryos left over after her successful pregnancies. 

CNN reported on February 22nd that a second fertility clinic in Birmingham, Alabama has “halted” part of its IVF program due to legal concerns as it evaluates the implications of the Supreme Court’s decision. The process of egg retrieval is still available to patients, but “egg fertilization and embryo development” has been paused. In these stages, the viability of eggs and embryos is considered and is necessary if these future eggs and embryos are to be transferred. This pause in the process inevitably places limits on the window of pregnancy but also continues to raise severe concerns about whether IVF is a realistic option for families in Alabama. 

This ruling further tightens regulations surrounding reproductive healthcare decisions and it will also serve as a barrier to the people of Alabama who wish to go through the IVF process. Hospitals view the ruling as a huge risk, making it almost impossible to run an IVF clinic without the constant fear of causing a “death.” One thing is clear – the state of Alabama has offered women yet another haunting warning, they can and will take control of their reproductive choices as they see fit.

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