An Alabama Health System Halts Majority of I.V.F. Procedures Following State Supreme Court’s Ruling on Embryos as Children

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he recent decision by the Alabama Supreme Court is poised to reshape infertility care in the state, potentially paving the way for broader constitutional rights for fetuses and even embryos outside the womb. This ruling underscores the growing significance of fetal personhood for both the antiabortion movement and the Republican Party, with potential far-reaching consequences.

The unique aspect of the Alabama court’s decision lies in its declaration of personhood before birth, extending this concept to include embryos not yet implanted in the uterus. However, beyond its unusual nature, the ruling carries profound implications. If embryos are recognized as persons, their destruction, donation for research, or even storage may become impermissible, leading to significant repercussions for in vitro fertilization (IVF) procedures.

The potential transformation of IVF practices in Alabama, influenced by the court’s ruling, could set a precedent for other conservative states. This, in turn, may make it more challenging to pursue IVF across broader regions of the country and strengthen antiabortion efforts to establish a fetus or frozen embryo as a person under federal constitutional law.

The case that led to this ruling originated when three couples sought IVF treatment in Mobile. While annually about 2% of births in the U.S. involve IVF, the procedure’s success rate can be low, prompting the routine creation and storage of excess embryos. However, the accidental destruction of stored embryos at a fertility clinic in 2020 led the couples to sue, asserting that their embryos should be considered “children” or “persons” under the state’s wrongful death of a minor law.

The Alabama Supreme Court’s agreement that the embryos are persons, citing a 2018 ballot measure recognizing fetuses as persons under state law, reflects the increasing influence of personhood politics on the American right. Chief Justice Tom Parker’s concurring opinion, invoking divine law, further emphasizes the court’s position.

As the push for fetal personhood gains momentum, it is crucial to consider alternatives to criminalization that protect embryonic or fetal life without impinging on reproductive liberty. Acknowledging the value of life in the womb should prompt the government to explore constitutional obligations that advance interests in protecting life without restricting reproductive choices, such as improving prenatal care, supporting pregnant workers, and reducing maternal mortality rates.

The Alabama Supreme Court’s ruling marks just the beginning of the debate on fetal personhood, and unless a nuanced approach is adopted, increased recognition of such personhood may inadvertently criminalize various aspects of reproductive decision-making.

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