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Biden condemns Alabama IVF ruling as ‘outrageous and unacceptable’

Alabama’s highest court issued a shock ruling last week that classified frozen embryos as ‘children’

Richard Hall
Thursday 22 February 2024 19:26 GMT
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Alabama Supreme Court rules frozen embryos are children

President Joe Biden condemned an Alabama Supreme Court ruling that defined frozen embryos as children, linking the decision to the years-long campaign to curtail abortion rights.

“The disregard for women’s ability to make these decisions for themselves and their families is outrageous and unacceptable,” he said in a statement.

“Make no mistake: this is a direct result of the overturning of Roe v Wade,” he added.

Alabama’s highest court issued a shock ruling last week that classified frozen embryos as unborn children. That definition is not one shared by scientists but is promoted by Christian fundamentalists and anti-abortion campaigners who believe that life begins at conception.

The ruling stems from a 2020 case in which a patient destroyed several embryos at an IVF clinic in Alabama. The three families who owned the embryos filed a wrongful death lawsuit, but it was thrown out by a lower court, which said the case related to property.

The Supreme Court overturned that ruling, declaring that the embryos were “children” and a wrongful death lawsuit could proceed.

In the majority opinion, Justice Jay Mitchell referred to the frozen embryos as “extrauterine children” and said that the state’s wrongful death law applies to “all unborn children, regardless of their location.” Chief Justice Tom Parker wrote a concurring opinion that quoted the Bible, declaring that “even before birth, all human beings bear the image of God, and their lives cannot be destroyed without effacing his glory.”

The decision caused chaos at fertility clinics across the state, many of which were unsure if the normal practices of freezing and discarding embryos were still legal.

At least two fertility clinics in Alabama have paused IVF treatments while they consider the legal ramifications of the ruling.

One couple in the state told The Independent that their plans to grow their family had been thrown into turmoil and that they were now reluctantly considering relocating.

In the IVF process, an egg is combined with a sperm in a laboratory before being implanted in the uterus. The process often requires the fertilisation of many eggs to increase the chance that at least one will lead to a viable pregnancy. The embryo with the best chance of succeeding in the womb is usually transferred, while the rest can be frozen and kept, in case the transfer fails or the patient wants to have another child. Embryos that are abnormal and unlikely to result in a successful pregnancy are often discarded.

About 2 per cent of births in the US are from IVF. Globally, more than eight million babies have been born using the procedure since the first use in July 1978 at Oldham General Hospital, UK.

“Today, in 2024 in America, women are being turned away from emergency rooms and forced to travel hundreds of miles for health care, while doctors fear prosecution for providing an abortion. And now, a court in Alabama put access to some fertility treatments at risk for families who are desperately trying to get pregnant,” Mr Biden said in the statement.

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