About

Frozen embryos now have the same rights as children in Alabama

Share
A court in the U.S. state of Alabama has ruled that frozen embryos have the same legal rights as children.
frozen embryos same rights as children Alabama

A court in the U.S. state of Alabama has ruled that frozen embryos have the same legal rights as children.

Embryo freezing is a process of preserving a fertilised egg and sperm for assisted fertility practices (e.g. IVF).

The ruling is expected to have the biggest impact on the state’s IVF clinics and their patients, who now risk legal action for discarding unused embryos.

Background

Alabama introduced a total abortion ban in June 2022.

This came after the U.S. Supreme Court ended the constitutional right to an abortion, meaning individual states could make their own abortion laws.

Before this week’s ruling in Alabama, a foetus at any stage of pregnancy was considered to be a protected “human life”. Now, fertilised embryos outside of a uterus fall under this protection too.

Wrongful death

The ruling follows legal action against an Alabama IVF clinic over five destroyed embryos.

It comes after a patient allegedly broke into the clinic’s freezer, removed embryos that belonged to others and dropped them.

The patients whose embryos were lost claimed the IVF clinic was responsible for the “wrongful death of a minor” by allowing access to the freezer.

Court case

The wrongful death lawsuit raised questions about the legal status of embryos.

The IVF clinic argued that embryos were not children because they were “not contained within a biological womb” at the time they were destroyed.

The patients argued that Alabama’s laws say human life begins at fertilisation, meaning that even though these embryos weren’t implanted in a uterus yet, they were still covered by state law as a life.

The court accepted the patients’ argument, finding there was no “unwritten exception” that would exclude frozen embryos from laws protecting “unborn children”.

Part of the court’s reasoning was that it may one day be possible for foetuses to be grown to infancy in lab conditions, outside of a uterus.

It said: “Such a child would both be ’unborn’ (having never been delivered from a biological womb) and not ‘in utero’… their lives would be unprotected by Alabama law.”

The court’s decision means embryos are now protected by wrongful death laws.

Pushback

Reproductive rights groups say the court ruling will make it harder for people to access IVF in the state.

The American Society for Reproductive Medicine (ASRM) said the ruling puts clinics at risks of civil or criminal charges, and so “no healthcare provider will be willing to provide [IVF] treatments.”

It said “science and everyday common sense tells us” that frozen embryos should not be treated the same, legally, as a foetus in utero.

Become smarter in three minutes

Get the daily email that makes reading the news actually enjoyable. Stay informed, for free.

Be the smart friend in your group chat

Join thousands of young Aussies and get our 5 min daily newsletter on what matters in your world.

It’s easy. It’s trustworthy. It’s free.