The Aftermath of Alabama’s Supreme Court Ruling on IVF

Health and Gender Policy Brief #171 | By: Devyne Byrd | March 08, 2024

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The ramifications of the Supreme Court’s Dobbs decision to overturn abortion continue to be felt with the Alabama Supreme Court ruling that frozen embryos are extrauterine children under state law and that the “Unborn children are “children” … without exception based on developmental stage, physical location, or any other ancillary characteristics.”

The ruling came after a wrongful death lawsuit brought by couples whose frozen embryos were destroyed in a break-in at the Mobile, Alabama fertility clinic. The couples sued under the Wrongful Death of a Minor Act and the court ruled that the embryos were protected under it as extrauterine children.

Although the majority opinion tried to rest on a secular interpretation of the law, Chief Justice Parker’s concurring opinion dives deep into the biblical justifications of the decision, citing the sanctity of life and the biblical implications that come with the phrase, such as life beginning at conception and being made in the image of God. He also refers to the embryos as “little people.”

The decision led to Alabama IVF centers immediately pausing their fertilization practices and Alabama lawmakers rushing to pass legislation to protect IVF amid the intense backlash to the decision. Both Democrats and Republicans came together to push the bill and protect IVF care, however, the bill does not change the designation of embryos or discuss their status as children. The bill instead focuses on protecting patients and medical professionals from civil and criminal liability.

Although the decision is only applicable in Alabama, it has caused nationwide panic as states tend to follow the legislative patterns of their neighboring states, particularly in decisions surrounding abortion. The decision was based on state law, so it is unlikely to be taken to the Supreme Court, but similar interpretations could be. Among this panic, Republicans have quickly tried to distance themselves from the ruling after an initial celebration, with many coming out in support of IVF even if they ultimately agree that embryos are children. Democrats have taken the opportunity to emphasize the effects of overturning Roe v. Wade, with President Biden releasing a statement calling the decision “outrageous and unacceptable.” Following up his statements, the White House Press Secretary stated this was “exactly the type of chaos that we expected when the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade and paved the way for politicians to dictate some of the most personal decisions families can make.”

The Alabama Court’s ruling emphasizes the precarious position reproductive healthcare remains in as the effects of Dobb’s continue to be felt throughout the nation. With reproductive healthcare poised to be a major voter issue in the 2024 election, the parties’ responses to the ruling are under heightened scrutiny.

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