Digital Media Center
Bryant-Denny Stadium, Gate 61
920 Paul Bryant Drive
Tuscaloosa, AL 35487-0370
(800) 654-4262

© 2024 Alabama Public Radio
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Reaction to Alabama Supreme Court ruling that fertilized embryos are "people."

APR News

The Alabama Supreme Court recently ruled that frozen embryos can be considered children under state law. This is raising concerns about how the decision could affect in vitro fertilization, commonly known as IVF. The fertility treatment involves retrieving a woman's eggs and combining them with a man's sperm in a lab dish. A few days after fertilization, one or more embryos are placed in the uterus and healthy embryos that are not transferred may be frozen and stored. Frozen embryos can be used for future pregnancies, and are stored at places such as hospital labs or reproductive medicine centers. APR News Director Pat Duggins spoke with Robin Marty, Executive Director of the West Alabama Women's Center, and a voice for reproductive rights in the State. Here's that conversation.

PAT DUGGINS-- Okay, obvious question. Where were you? And what were you doing when you heard about what the Alabama Supreme Court had done?

ROBIN MARTY- So apparently, they dropped the decision during a weekend president's weekend, right before because that's what legislatures courts always do when they're trying to bury the news. I didn't hear about it until Monday. And that was when a reporter reached out to me about it. And I had to have them tell me what was going on. I had no idea. Um, things escalated really quickly.

DUGGINS-- Did it surprise you they (the State Supreme Court) did this?

MARTY-- Honestly, I'd been waiting for this sort of thing. The only thing that was really surprising to me is the fact that people are looking at the idea of frozen zygotes (fertilized embryos.) Now as okay, this is a dangerous step in the fact that they are now going to be vulnerable for wrongful death lawsuits. But the reality is that, from the point of fertilization, according to the application of this amendment, anybody could be in some sort of legal issue for doing something that could interrupt a pregnancy. And so this has made it very clear to people that what they're saying is not frozen embryos are going to be treated differently or are being protected differently, or are going to be in the middle of lawsuits differently than other unborn embryos.

DUGGINS-- So building on an earlier conversation that you and I had. Is the concern among doctors is that even if a medically necessary miscarriage occurs, they could be held in violation of the law?

MARTY-- Exactly. Because who decides that that was a medically necessary miscarriage? Somebody might be saying, Okay, we believe that it is okay to do a methotrexate (chemotherapy) shot when someone has an ectopic (pregnancy where the egg can’t survive) because that is a non-viable pregnancy. But another doctor might say, you know, we should wait, because we should see if it's possible that that pregnancy might not develop further on its own. What if there is actually another pregnancy that's in the uterus at the same time, let's watch and wait and see what's going to happen. So the reality is, as long as we have a small fringe of doctors that believe that they have to protect the unborn, and that (the fetus) is their sole patient, and that's what matters most. They're always going to be looking at the person carrying that pregnancy as the disposable one in the situation. And now we have essentially a Supreme Court ruling that says that that's how it needs to be looked at that the sanctity of life amendment says that, in all cases, the unborn needs to be the primary concern of that law.

DUGGINS—So, what is the message being sent by the power brokers etc., in Alabama is regarding this decision?

MARTY-- I think that the fact that we have not seen much actual discussion from politicians, especially from Republican politicians, since this came down, so shows how unbelievably vulnerable they are right now. They realize that this is immensely unpopular. We have not seen any legislation that has been introduced to try to address this. It is not the court's decision. It's not the courts job to try to carve out exceptions for rules. That's the rule of the legislature. Where is the new rule? We haven't seen anything yet. And that means that the Republicans in the state legislature are either uninterested in creating a rule, which should tell you a lot about where their beliefs stand when it comes between the person who's carrying the baby and the unborn itself. Or they are afraid to make a rule because of the political pressure that they would feel backlash on them if they did that.

DUGGINS-- Would you call this a new front on the battle over reproductive rights?

MARTY-- No, I would call this the this is just a continuing saga. We knew that this was coming. When the ballot initiative was introduced in 2017. I believe that was what reproductive rights activists said. They said you are going to lose IVF (invitro fertilization,) you are going to lose birth control. This is going to be so far beyond what you all think you are doing. You're not just saying there is no constitutional right to an abortion. You have codified personhood, and they were laughed at they were ignored. 60% of Alabamians ended up voting in favor of this. Whereas now we know that less than 20% of Alabamians believe that abortion should be completely illegal in all circumstances. Yet, that's where we are, we are in a place where it is even more extreme than just abortion, it is where you can no longer do anything with a fertilized egg. This should be a alarming call to arms for any person who believes in bodily autonomy, because we said IVF was in jeopardy. IVF is now in jeopardy. We told you that they're going to come for birth control. That's what's coming next.

DUGGINS—(GOP Presidential hopeful) Nikki Haley got on the bandwagon with this, sort of by saying that embryos are people, but then she backed away. But, I'm kind of curious and tell me if I'm crazy or not. But politically speaking, this would be a way for the GOP to talk “pro life” without specifically addressing Roe v. Wade and eliminating a woman's right to abortion, which impacts many more women than IVF.

MARTY—They can't. This is not they've basically painted themselves into a corner by deciding that they were going to play with the anti-abortion wing of the United States. There’s a far-right wing pro-life organization that creates data in order to try to change the public perception into believing that a fertilized egg is the same as an unborn person and has to legally be treated as such. And they have recently put out a call to action for people to contact the CDC, which right now is looking at doing some rules around reporting on IVF. Most of the GOP does not believe in this. I mean even we have Donald Trump allegedly trying to broker some sort of compromise on 16-week abortion bans.

DUGGINS Okay, so we started off with the end of Roe v. Wade, then Alabama's trigger law went into effect, and now we got IVF being impacted. What's next in terms of what the next chapter might be?

MARTY-- I was waiting for what's next. And honestly, the idea of figuring out what's next is what scares me the most, I do think that we're going to see an end to emergency contraception, I think that we are going to see an end to any sort of easily accessible birth control, which is difficult out in Alabama already as it is, for people who don't have insurance, it is almost impossible to get free or low cost birth control all of the title 10 funding is handled through Alabama Department of Health. And often it can take months to get an appointment there. So, if you do not have a private doctor, your options are essentially the Alabama Department of Public Health and waiting or coming to our clinic. With out needing to actually pass anything legislatively, it is possible for lawmakers for the government of Alabama to find ways to close off those few options that are left.

DUGGINS-- My initial thought was okay, now the GOP can talk about, “pro-life” issues with this without having to talk about Roe v. Wade. But within minutes of that I saw another article pop up online, that you know, this is going to actually backfire on the GOP because basically, the same people who were upset about Roe v Wade are going to be upset about what happened with Alabama regarding IVF. What do you think?

MARTY-- I think that people are going to be angry and rightfully should be angry. This is not a partisan issue. This is about whether people should have the ability to create families this is about whether people should have the ability to decide how big their families should be. All of these things are in the same bucket and they're all under attack and they all affect everyone regardless of their party, regardless of their race, their religion, where they live. These are all the same issue. And when you see a Supreme Court that comes out and attacks any one of these issues, you know that they're all under threat to me.

APR news has reached out to the Alabama Republican Party for comment.  

News from Alabama Public Radio is a public service in association with the University of Alabama. We depend on your help to keep our programming on the air and online. Please consider supporting the news you rely on with a donation today. Every contribution, no matter the size, propels our vital coverage. Thank you.