Test tube murder? Alabama Supreme Court’s terrible in vitro fertilization decision

A judge's gavel rests on a book of law. (Dreamstime/TNS)

“What are you doing, Alabama?” Neil Young sang. The question must be asked again and at the top of the nation’s lungs, as abortion fundamentalism has just resulted in a ruling by the state’s top court that, in the name of protecting life, shows patent disrespect for families and the children they seek to bring into the world.

The Alabama Supreme Court’s decision, rooted in the state constitution and state laws, finds that embryos created for the purpose of in vitro fertilization — and kept in freezers so that they can then be implanted or not — must be treated as human beings. To quote the majority decision: “the ordinary meaning of ‘child’ includes children who have not yet been born,” and children are children “regardless of that child’s viability or stage of development.”


This means, says the court, that the parents of an embryo, even one just days old, can seek punitive damages under the state’s Wrongful Death of a Minor Act, passed in 1872.

Though the legal dust has yet to settle, it might also make those who destroy embryos criminally liable in other ways.

Roe v. Wade, the U.S. Supreme Court decision that made reproductive freedom the law of the land, generally gave states the ability to regulate abortion after fetal viability, at first thought to be about 24 weeks into pregnancy. The 2022 Dobbs ruling swept all that away, kicking decisions entirely to state legislatures and courts — and giving fresh force to laws on the books that had been effectively rendered dormant.

This now leads to the absurdity that a blastocyst made up of as few as three to six cells, and as little as three days old, is, in the eyes of those who define Alabama’s laws, a fully-fledged human being. In a concurring ruling, Chief Justice Tom Parker was a preacher: “Human life cannot be wrongfully destroyed without incurring the wrath of a holy God.”

Couples who have struggled to have babies, including cancer patients rendered infertile by treatment, suddenly now have to contend with the dogmatic, theocratic view that the moment an egg is fertilized, even if it has never implanted in a womb, its destruction is tantamount to murder. Madness.

Though Alabama’s ruling has no force in other states, it expresses the fervently held view of many Republican legislators and so-called conservative judges across America. There are hundreds of thousands if not a million of frozen embryos across the country, many that couples have no intention to implant — because they were created along with others, in hopes that one or two likeliest to be successful could be carried to term.

Thanks to the court ruling, Alabama’s fertility treatment centers are now petrified about legal liability. Couples who dreamed of having children with a little help from science are paralyzed too.

Would these cruel judges have three-day-old blastocysts preserved until the end of time, and if so, at whose cost? Would they demand their implantation in women so they will be carried to term, so that potential human life is forced to become living, breathing human life? What exactly is the world that they envision?