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Alabama Supreme Court: Embryos Are People, Too

When it comes to abortion law, every time you think that the red states can't come up with something more extreme, they pull yet another rabbit out of a hat. So it is in Alabama this week.

What did the Alabamians do? Well, there were several Alabama couples who tried to conceive via in-vitro fertilization (IVF). Some of the embryos were destroyed in an accident at the clinic they were using. So, the couples sued under an Alabama law that allows parents to recover damages in the event of a wrongful death of a minor child. And in their ruling, issued earlier this week, the Alabama Supreme Court said that yep, the law applies because embryos are legally children under Alabama law.

We will note here that this is an entirely reasonable conclusion, if you begin from the position that life begins at conception, and that fetal viability does not matter. Should you embrace that line of thinking, there is no substantive difference between a 4-week-old fetus and an embryo sitting in a freezer somewhere. Both are post-fertilization, neither is viable, both are potential human lives.

But if you take this view, then it also means you are brushing aside some rather serious consequences. It will increase the costs of liability insurance for IVF providers, since any mistake could leave them liable for manslaughter. It will cause other IVF providers to decide it's just not worth it, and to close their doors. It could put parents and would-be parents in the position of paying for storage of unwanted embryos forever, since the embryos would not be used and could not be destroyed. The upshot is that many people who want children, and who cannot have them the regular way, will be out of luck because they won't be able to afford the much higher costs of IVF.

And if a fertilized egg cell is a legal person, then obviously a zygote is also a person. If a (recently) pregnant woman travels internationally, then not having a passport for the zygote is human trafficking. Do immigration agents have the obligation to check for this? Presumably zygotes can then also be given or inherit property (which might be an issue when a pregnant woman gets divorced and the father wants to give money to his zygote but not his wife). Can a fertilized egg cell in a lab somewhere be the beneficiary of a trust? Talk about a can of worms.

This decision will be appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, but who knows what they will do with it. Decline to hear it? Affirm it? Overturn it? Anything is possible. Meanwhile, the more people for whom the Dobbs decision becomes personal, the more salient that abortion rights become as a political issue. (Z)

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