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“Alabama Supreme Court Rules Frozen Embryos as Children, Raising Concerns for Fertility Treatments”

The Alabama Supreme Court recently made a significant ruling that has raised concerns within the fertility treatment community. The court determined that frozen embryos can be legally considered children under state law, a decision that critics argue could have far-reaching implications for fertility treatments. The ruling came about as a result of two wrongful death cases brought by three couples who had their frozen embryos destroyed in an accident at a fertility clinic.

Citing anti-abortion language in the Alabama Constitution, the justices concluded that an 1872 state law allowing parents to sue over the death of a minor child applies to all unborn children, regardless of their location. Justice Jay Mitchell stated in the majority ruling that “unborn children are ‘children’ … without exception based on developmental stage, physical location, or any other ancillary characteristics.” This decision marks a departure from previous court interpretations that considered frozen embryos as property rather than individuals.

The ramifications of this ruling have sparked concerns within the fertility treatment community. Barbara Collura, CEO of RESOLVE: The National Infertility Association, expressed her worry about the implications for in-vitro fertilization (IVF) practices. She stated that the ruling now considers a fertilized egg, which is essentially a clump of cells, as a person. Collura emphasized that this development raises questions about the freezing of future embryos created during fertility treatment and whether patients can donate or destroy unused embryos.

The plaintiffs in the Alabama case had undergone IVF treatments, resulting in the creation of several embryos. Some of these embryos were successfully implanted and led to healthy births, while others were stored in a facility at the Mobile Infirmary Medical Center. Tragically, in 2020, a patient wandered into the storage area and accidentally dropped and “killed” several embryos. The court ruled that the couples could proceed with wrongful death lawsuits in light of this incident.

While this ruling has sparked concerns, it has also garnered support from anti-abortion groups. Lila Rose, president and founder of Live Action, praised the decision, stating that every person, from the tiniest embryo to an elder nearing the end of life, has incalculable value deserving legal protection. Chief Justice Tom Parker echoed this sentiment in a concurring opinion, quoting the Bible to highlight the sanctity of unborn life.

However, Justice Greg Cook filed the sole dissenting opinion, arguing that the 1872 law did not originally include frozen embryos in its definition of a “minor child.” Cook expressed concerns that stretching the law’s scope could have unintended consequences for fertility treatments in Alabama. He also noted that no court in the country has reached a similar conclusion to the Alabama Supreme Court’s ruling.

The court’s decision was partly influenced by anti-abortion language added to the Alabama Constitution in 2018. This language asserts that it is the state’s public policy to protect the rights of the unborn child. Supporters argued that it would merely reflect voters’ beliefs and have no impact unless states gained more control over abortion access. However, with states gaining more control over abortion access in 2022, the consequences of this constitutional provision are now being felt.

Critics of the Alabama decision, such as White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre, believe it reflects the repercussions of the Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade. Jean-Pierre blamed Republican elected officials for obstructing women’s access to reproductive and emergency care and emphasized President Biden and Vice President Harris’s commitment to fighting for reproductive health care access and calling on Congress to restore the protections of Roe v. Wade in federal law.

The Alabama Supreme Court’s ruling on frozen embryos as children has undoubtedly raised concerns within the fertility treatment community. As the implications of this decision continue to unfold, it remains to be seen how it will impact current and future practices surrounding IVF and the freezing of embryos. What is clear is that this ruling has ignited a broader conversation about the legal status of embryos and the rights they possess under the law.

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