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What the Alabama Embryo Ruling Could Mean for the Future of Fertility Rights

Published by Harper’s Bazaar. Read the full article here.

Already, the shock is being felt throughout Alabama and the rest of the country.

When Gabrielle Goidel married her husband, Spencer, in late 2021, she couldn’t help but think of what their life together might look like. She wasn’t sure where they’d end up living or what they’d be doing in 10 years’ time, but the one thing she was always certain of was that they would have a family.

The Goidels wasted no time attempting to make this dream a reality. But their hope quickly turned to disappointment, after Gabrielle suffered three consecutive miscarriages. After more than two years of trying, they were eager to know why their plan for children wasn’t coming to fruition. Soon, they learned that because of genetic issues, it would be nearly impossible for Gabrielle to get pregnant naturally. Their only hope would be in vitro fertilization. In IVF, eggs are surgically removed from the ovaries, fertilized with sperm, and implanted in the uterus.

So in November 2023, roughly six months after Spencer had accepted his dream job as a professor at Auburn University and the Goidels had moved to Alabama, they decided to start the process. Following several months of testing, poking, and prodding, the couple officially began the IVF cycle earlier this month, and despite the physical, emotional, and financial toll it was sure to take, Gabrielle was thrilled to be one step closer to creating a family.

Then the Goidels hit another roadblock, when, in a first-of-its-kind ruling, the Alabama Supreme Court decided last week that frozen embryos should be considered children and that anyone who destroyed them could be held liable for wrongful death. At the center of the ruling were two lawsuits filed by three sets of parents who underwent IVF and had their remaining embryos frozen. The suits allege that in December 2020, another patient at the Mobile hospital that housed the parents’ frozen embryos entered the fertility clinic and attempted to remove several embryos from cryogenic storage, before dropping and therefore destroying them. In response, the parents sued for wrongful death, challenging the longtime precedent to treat frozen embryos as property and instead asserting they be granted personhood. A trial court dismissed these claims, finding that the embryos did not fit the definition of a person or child. But in a stunning reversal, the state Supreme Court disagreed, ruling on Friday that unborn offspring “located outside of a biological uterus at the time they are killed” are indeed children.

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