Artificial insemination: In Alabama, embryos are now considered babies – with dramatic consequences

The Alabama Supreme Court has ruled that artificial insemination embryos should be treated like live babies. A judgment with far-reaching consequences. Was the decision religiously motivated? And what role does Donald Trump play? The star answers the most important questions.

Table of contents

The right to abortion has long been contested in the USA. Now artificial insemination (IVF) is moving to the center of the political and ideological dispute. The Supreme Court of Alabama ruled that embryos conceived in a test tube and frozen should also be considered babies.

Three couples filed a lawsuit against a reproductive clinic after a patient accidentally threw their embryos from a table onto the floor and destroyed them. The lawsuit was about damages. The plaintiffs pointed to an 1872 wrongful death law for minors.

Lower courts had twice dismissed the lawsuit. One ruled that the frozen embryos could not be considered “persons” or “children.” Now the turnaround followed.

1. How was the decision justified in the judgment?

By a vote of seven to two, the Alabama Supreme Court overturned the lower courts’ rulings. Judge Jay Mitchell repeatedly quoted the Bible in his reasoning. And declared that the more than 150-year-old law on the wrongful death of minors applies to “all children without restriction.” He also drew a direct line to the near-total ban on abortion in Alabama. Almost two years ago, the US Supreme Court overturned the “Roe v. Wade” ruling, which had existed since 1973 – and thereby abolished the nationwide right to abortion. Now each state can decide for itself how to deal with it.

2. What happened after the Alabama verdict?

The shock of the verdict was of course great. It has had far-reaching implications for couples trying to conceive via in vitro fertilization (IVF). The University of Alabama immediately stopped its artificial insemination program out of concern that doctors and patients could now commit criminal offenses. “We are saddened that this will impact our patients’ attempts to have a baby through IVF,” the university said. The court’s decision “that a frozen embryo is a human being” must be evaluated. It must be examined whether “our patients and our doctors” could be “prosecuted criminally” for the standard use of IVF treatments. Other clinics have already followed the university.

3. What specific problems does the ruling cause?

IVF typically involves removing as many eggs as possible from a woman. These are then fertilized and the embryos are frozen. In most cases, only one embryo is reimplanted per round in order to keep the chances of pregnancy as high as possible.

4. Can embryos from artificial insemination still be frozen?

It is already unclear whether embryos can even be frozen for storage. Can you freeze people? And what happens if a couple has successfully conceived but embryos are still frozen? The judgment does not provide any answers to these questions. Reproductive doctors are clear in their opinion: the verdict was a completely unscientific and unmedical decision.

5. To what extent was this a political decision?

The suspicion is that in an election year such a decision is also politically motivated in order to bind the growing, extremely religious portion of the population to the Republicans and Donald Trump. The so-called evangelicals have already played an important role in the last two elections, and that will be the case this time too. That’s why it was no surprise that Nikky Haley, who is running as the US Republican presidential candidate, supports the ruling. “To me, embryos are babies,” Haley said in an interview with NBC News. “When you talk about an embryo, for me that is life.”

6. Who drove the decision?

Apparently Chief Justice Tom Parker. In his 20 years as a judge, he has often quoted the Bible in his reasons and expressed religious views. He also helped prepare the lawsuit that ended Roe v. Wade ruling ensured. He also publicly complained that other judges did not take religion into account enough in their rulings. He also supports the “Seven Mountain Mandate,” which calls on Christian believers to run the government and control American life under the slogan “Christian Nationalism.” Paula White, Donald Trump’s spiritual advisor, is a supporter of the movement, as is Tom Parker.

7. How does the judge justify the decision in detail?

Tom Parker fundamentally argues that all laws in Alabama are based on the Christian religion. Because God created all people “in his own image.” In the case of in vitro fertilization, he writes that life begins at fertilization, so frozen embryos are protected by law. “Human life cannot be unjustly destroyed without incurring the wrath of the holy God,” he said. Parker also quotes the Book of Genesis: “The principle that human life is fundamentally different from all other forms of life and cannot be taken without justification has deep roots, dating back to the creation of man in God’s image.”

8. What did Donald Trump say about the verdict?

Trump took a noticeable amount of time to comment and then made a surprisingly balanced statement: “Under my leadership, Republicans will always support the creation of strong, successful, healthy American families. We want to make it easier for mothers and fathers to have babies. ” The background is that, of course, believing Christians also try to have children via IVF. He obviously doesn’t want to scare them off after the harsh verdict.

9. What happens next with the issue of abortion?

When the Supreme Court ruled Roe v. Wade overturned, Trump said in a private conversation that he believed this decision could harm the Republicans: There are deep divisions in his party on this issue. Now that Trump wants to run for president again, he is extremely cautious. The New York Times reports that he recently said privately that he liked the idea of ​​a nationwide ban on abortion after 16 weeks of pregnancy. With three exceptions: rape, incest and danger to the life of the mother. In the same conversation, he is said to have said that he wanted to wait until after his nomination to express his opinion so as not to scare anyone away.

10. Is the decision final?

No – and it is far from clear whether it applies to all IVF cases. The Supreme Court has initially referred the lawsuit back to a district court. Negotiations must continue there. But the impact of the previous decision is already big: there is confusion, nobody wants to do anything wrong. There are first couples who want to move their fertilized embryos from Alabama to another state.