Alabama’s highest court has declared frozen embryos human. The US Supreme Court is to blame

(Jamie Martin/Associated Press)

Alabama’s highest court has declared frozen embryos human. The US Supreme Court is to blame

Op-ed, Abortion

Harry Litman

February 22, 2024

The Alabama Supreme Court’s breathtakingly arrogant, wishy-washy, and pernicious opinion on granting personhood to newly formed embryos vividly illustrates the consequences of another reckless decision: the reversal of Roe vs. Wade by the US Supreme Court.

An Alabama court ruled last week that fertilized eggs cryogenically stored for couples struggling to conceive are legally and morally equivalent to newborn babies and, for that matter, 20-year-old adults. According to the court, all people are protected equally under Alabama law.

The decision clears the way for wrongful death lawsuits brought by couples whose embryos were destroyed by a patient who walked into an in vitro fertilization clinic through an unsecured entrance, picked up some frozen fertilized eggs and, shocked by their cryogenic temperature, immediately dropped it to the ground. the floor. The Alabama Supreme Court ruled that this conduct could be subject to a wrongful death claim, making it indistinguishable from, say, the death of a two-year-old child who was negligently left in a sizzling car.

Amazingly, the sole focus of the court’s analysis was whether Alabama’s wrongful death law includes ectopic children, that is, unborn children who are outside a biological womb at the time they are killed. The court did not even attempt to grapple with the distinction between a newly fertilized egg, what biologists call a blastocyst, a ball of up to a few hundred cells with a diameter of a fraction of a millimeter, and a full-term child born at term .

It is common to learn of the series of terrible things that can be caused by such an extreme decision. But here the parade has already started.

Alabama’s largest hospital announced Wednesday that it will no longer offer parents in vitro fertilization procedures due to the significant threat of criminal liability for mishandling fertilized eggs. Other providers followed suit on Thursday. Medical workers trying to help couples conceive have suddenly been portrayed as potential murderers by the courts.

The immediate consequences don’t stop there. Women who use IUDs or morning-after pills, which can damage fertilized eggs, are baby killers under Alabama law.

The courts presumed that the legal opinion actually rests on the principle that life begins at conception, a matter of religious belief that only a small minority of the country subscribes to.

Chief Justice Tom Parker’s dissenting opinion uses quotes and teachings from the Bible as if they had the legal force of the Bill of Rights. Passages from Genesis and Exodus, various theological treatises, Thomas Aquinas, John Calvin and Jonathan Edwards take their place alongside the writings of US Supreme Court Justices Antonin Scalia and Neil M. Gorsuch. They all support the view that God made every human being in His image and that human life cannot be unjustly destroyed without incurring the wrath of a holy God, who regards the destruction of His image as an affront to Himself .

But apart from the wrath of God, there is no attempt to rationalize the legal equation of a frozen, formless collection of cells with a living person. The court simply dismisses this with the syllogistic reasoning that Alabama statutory law specifies that human life includes unborn life.

Such clumsiness undermines the entire point of view. The crucial question for the state is not whether an embryo of a certain age can be said to be in some sense alive; what matters is whether it is a human being who deserves the rights and protections afforded to all of us, which is a much broader and more complicated term.

A stage full of theologians, philosophers, ethicists and politicians could not come up with an authoritative answer to that question. And in the absence of such a response, how can the state so deeply undermine the freedom of women and aspiring parents?

In this sense, the Alabama Supreme Court’s opinion can be traced directly to the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2022 decision in Dobbs vs. Jackson Women’s Health Organization. The idea of ​​shoving this tendentious religious tract down Americans’ throats would have been a non-starter under Roe vs. Wade, which defended women’s constitutional freedom interests against an overreaching, moralistic state.

Post-Dobbs, those rights are light as a feather. The outrage is tied to the poor reasoning and grotesque overreach of the U.S. Supreme Court.

Nor is Alabama the only state claiming to enshrine in law the fundamentally religious position that human life begins at conception. Arkansas, Kentucky, Missouri and Oklahoma issued similar proclamations in the wake of Dobbs.

The Alabama Supreme Court takes this evil premise to its logical conclusion and deprives every American within its jurisdiction of the right to make their own decisions on a matter of supreme moral and practical importance. That is the antithesis of freedom.

Harry Litman is the host of the

Talking Feds Podcast




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