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Alabama ruling signals nationwide theological threat to IVF 

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The Alabama Supreme Court’s horrifying in vitro fertilization (IVF) decision — ruling that frozen embryos are “extrauterine children” — overtly relies on Christianity and the court chief justice’s consideration of what constitutes life. 

Chief Justice Tom Parker wrote, “Human life cannot be wrongfully destroyed without incurring the wrath of a holy God,” as a core argument in his concurring opinion. IVF clinics have suspended services, leaving Alabama patients in limbo. 

Alabama’s ruling sparked a panic around the country to secure IVF accessibility — and left anti-abortion Republicans scrambling to salvage political capital, given that 86 percent of Americans believe IVF should remain legal and accessible. In the ruling’s aftermath, Alabama Republicans rushed to introduce a bill that would give immunity to IVF medical providers, and Republican Gov. Kay Ivey, a noted anti-abortionist, signed the bill into law last week. However, the bill will automatically be repealed in 2025

Bill sponsors obviously hoped to quell public outrage while handily sidestepping the question of whether state law considers frozen embryos created via IVF as legal children. The measure “falls far short of what Alabamans want and need to access fertility care in their state without fear,” asserted Karla Torres, senior counsel at the Center for Reproductive Rights.

Republicans all over the nation likewise have been rushing to come forward in apparent support for IVF since the Alabama ruling. But given the chance to take concrete action to protect IVF access, U.S. Senate Republicans refused. When Democratic Sen. Tammy Duckworth, who herself has two children through IVF, brought forward a bill that would establish a federal right to “assisted reproductive technology,” a vote was blocked by Republican Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith on the grounds that “human life should be protected.” This is the second time Senate Republicans have thwarted Duckworth’s bill. Republicans seemingly only support IVF when they do not have to take real action or their remedy has a repeal in sight.

The campaign arm for Senate Republicans recently supplied its candidates with advice to “clearly and concisely reject efforts by the government to restrict IVF.” Still, Republicans have a long history of fueling the groundwork for eliminating IVF. Republican legislators overwhelmingly supported the 2021 Life at Conception Act, which would federally recognize fertilized eggs as children, with as many as 166 House Republicans signing onto the bill. Lawmakers cannot claim to support reproductive technology such as IVF while also contributing to the personhood rationale that is used to restrict it. At the state level, abortion opponents have introduced laws in at least 15 states based on the idea that a fetus should have the same rights as a person, according to Associated Press.

Alabama’s high court ruling and personhood efforts are setting a precedent for a national abortion ban. Abortion rights legal expert and law Professor Mary Ziegler, recently argued that the more states that establish fetal personhood laws, the more likely the U.S. Supreme Court will be able to say that fetal rights are a “matter of history or tradition.” Anti-abortionists are trying to lay the groundwork for a national ban by establishing as many fetal personhood state laws as possible. Sen. Elizabeth Warren warns that there is no question that an abortion ban is coming if Republicans retake control in November. If Republicans win big this year, it will happen. 

Chief Justice Parker is only saying outright what these anti-abortion Republicans believe. “The principle itself — that human life is fundamentally distinct from other forms of life and cannot be taken intentionally without justification — has deep roots that reach back to the creation of man ‘in the image of God,’” Parker wrote in his concurrence, whose reasoning was intrinsically religious and relied on the bible. 

Alabama’s ruling relied on Christian dogma and interpretations of “the wrath of a holy God,” but it also triggered public outrage and pushed forward state initiatives to protect IVF. The future of IVF, abortion and contraceptive rights nationally will be decided in November. It is more important than ever that we examine the true intent behind decisions like Alabama’s IVF ruling and vote for those who will ensure abortion rights are protected in a post-Dobbs world.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR 

Caitlin Berray is the Governmental Affairs Coordinator for the Freedom From Religion Foundation. Caitlin graduated from Baylor University with a B.A. in International Studies and a minor in Political Science in December 2021. After graduation, Caitlin interned with various nonprofits dedicated to progressive U.S. politics and international development.  Joining FFRF in October 2022, Caitlin first worked as FFRF’s Governmental Affairs Intern.

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