An Alabama judge ruled that frozen embryos are people, and reproductive rights advocates are sounding the alarm

  • Alabama's Supreme Court ruled that frozen embryos are considered people under state law.

  • The ruling could negatively impact IVF in the state, according to advocates.

  • Eleven states have laws that define personhood as beginning at fertilization.

In a landmark ruling in Alabama that's left the future of in vitro fertilization in the state in jeopardy, the chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court pointed to a verse from the Book of Genesis in explaining why frozen embryos are people — and said that a person could be punished if they're destroyed.

"Man's creation in God's image is the basis of the general prohibition on the intentional taking of human life," Tom Parker, the chief justice, wrote in an opinion published last week, referencing the Bible verse Genesis 9:6.

In its decision, which has already drawn criticism from reproductive rights advocates, the Alabama Supreme Court ruled that frozen embryos have the same rights as living children under Alabama's Wrongful Death of a Minor Act.

The act "applies to all children, born and unborn, without limitation," the court wrote. The decision could set a striking standard and unleash big implications on America's ongoing national debate around reproductive rights, which has become a lightning rod since the US Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade in 2022.

Some experts on reproductive rights are already sounding the alarm over the new ruling. "This is a natural extension of the march toward fetal personhood," Dana Sussman, the deputy executive director of Pregnancy Justice, told the Washington Post. Sussman also warned that the court's decision could prognosticate similar rulings across the country.

"You only need one state to be the first out of the gate, and then the next one will feel less radical," she added. "This is a cause of great concern for anyone that cares about people's reproductive rights and abortion care."

The case was brought by three couples who had undergone IVF treatments at a facility operated by The Center for Reproductive Medicine.

According to court documents, in December 2020 an unauthorized person entered the facility and removed several frozen embryos, which were said to be so cold that they burned the person's hand. The embryos fell to the ground.

The couples later sued both the Center for Reproductive Medicine and the Mobile Infirmary Medical Center, where the embryos had been stored.

The case reached the Alabama Supreme Court after a lower court dismissed the couples' claims, though they later appealed. Following last week's ruling, they'll be able to sue the clinic for damages tied to the loss of their embryos.

What the ruling could mean for IVF in Alabama

Some critics have seized on the ruling, claiming it could make it difficult for others in the state to conduct in vitro fertilization, a process in which eggs are fertilized outside the uterus.

In an amicus brief supporting the defendants, the Medical Association of the State of Alabama wrote that this ruling could cause the cost of IVF to skyrocket, because it could leave other clinics significantly exposed to wrongful death liability.

The ruling stands to reignite tensions around reproductive rights that reached a boiling point after the Supreme Court struck down Roe v. Wade nearly two years ago. That consequential decision has led to abortion bans and increased restrictions in 21 states nationwide.

Later this year, the Supreme Court is expected to rule on access to mifepristone, a drug that can terminate a pregnancy alongside misoprostol.

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