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Advocates say the debate over 'personhood' goes back to Roe reversal

A recent Alabama Supreme Court ruling is reigniting the debate over the legal rights of fetuses versus the legal rights of prospective parents.
Advocates say the debate over 'personhood' goes back to Roe reversal
Posted at 10:20 AM, Feb 26, 2024
and last updated 2024-02-26 12:21:54-05

Angela Granger tells Scripps News she always wanted children, so she went to Alabama to undergo a special type of in vitro fertilization.

"I hit 36 years old and my OB [obstetrician-gynecologist] was like, 'Angela, if you're gonna do this, you gotta do it,'" she said with a laugh.

It wasn't easy but eventually the process worked. She had plans for siblings and hoped to start IVF again, until a recent Alabama Supreme Court Ruling.

"To tell me, somebody who went through a lot to have a baby, that I am in some way being negligent, you know, like against those embryos, is devastating," Granger added.

Last Friday, Alabama's high court released a ruling deeming embryos as "children" who are subject to protection under the state's wrongful death of a minor law. 

SEE MORE: Alabama lawmakers introduce bills to protect IVF treatments

"You can't put a born baby into a freezer and have it survive. You can with a fertilized egg," explained American Society for Reproductive Medicine Policy Officer Sean Tipton. "Now, they don't all survive. I mean, maybe 95% of them will. And so it becomes this question of what happens to the ones that didn't and who is legally responsible for that."

Tipton says much of the debate goes back to the Supreme Court's overturning of Roe v. Wade, which put decisions like this back in the hands of the states. Since that reversal in what is known as the Dobbs case, the debate over "personhood" and the legal rights of fetuses has become a bit of a patchwork, with at least 11 states extending legal rights to a fetus, according to the advocacy group Pregnancy Justice.

"They have removed the Constitutional protections and we have seen lots and lots of prohibitions and restrictions on pregnancy termination," Tipton added. "We have seen an interest in limiting contraceptive access and now we are seeing a direct attack on fertility care."

Ten states have introduced legislation banning abortion based on fetal personhood, according to the Guttmacher Institute. But the battle over the legal rights of fetuses versus the rights of the pregnant mother have been brewing for some time.

According to Pregnancy Justice, there were nearly 1,400 criminal arrests for pregnant women between 2006 and 2022, with 9 in 10 involving allegations of substance use during pregnancy. The group is calling on states to reject the idea of personhood and put more efforts into addressing stigma surrounding substance abuse.

SEE MORE: Embryo donations on the rise as an infertility treatment option

Anti-abortion advocates have long stated unborn life goes beyond fetuses and includes embryos, pushing back against IVF for years. They've also decried "under-regulations" in IVF clinics and the idea of "disposable children." 

Lila Rose is the CEO of the anti-abortion advocacy group Live Action, and she praises the Alabama Supreme Court's ruling.

"Each person, from the tiniest embryo to an elder nearing the end of his life, has incalculable value that deserves and is guaranteed legal protection," Rose said.

It's an issue that she believes the U.S. Supreme Court should now step in and rule on.

"The federal Constitution's 14th Amendment guarantees every person equal protection under the law — including pre-born children," she added.

It's an argument bound to continue as the fallout of Dobbs continues.

"It's very ironic to me," Tipton said. "There is no more pro-life medical therapy available than in vitro fertilization, which is in the business of helping lead to the births of over 100,000 babies in this country every year."

Meanwhile, Granger says plans for another baby are currently on hold.

"I don't trust any of the states, you know, like it is just this is like setting a precedent," she began. "We want kids, and IVF for some of us is the only way to do it, and that's being threatened."

It's an issue that Granger says isn't only impacting her, but many other would-be parents across the state.

"One friend who was scheduled to start her IVF in March, and that has basically been shut down by her clinic," she added. "Now everybody's on pause, you know, and a lot of us women don't have time to pause."


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