By Sarah Neely

Last week, in a 7-2 decision, the Alabama Supreme Court ruled that parents of frozen embryos can move forward with a wrongful death suit against an in vitro fertilization (IVF) clinic. 

This appeal was a result of two separate suits, both filed by parents of frozen embryos who contracted with the clinic to maintain those embryos in a cryogenic nursery, or a special freezer to preserve the embryos.

The IVF clinic shares the building with the local hospital. According to the suit, in December 2020, a hospital patient wandered into the cryogenic nursery through an “unsecured doorway.” Grabbing several embryos kept at subzero temperatures, the patient’s hands were freeze-burned and the embryos dropped, killing all of them.

The plaintiffs filed suit under the Alabama Wrongful Death of a Minor Act, but included claims of negligence as well, specifying that those claims should only be used if the “Courts of this State or the United States Supreme Court” should rule that an extrauterine embryo is not a child, but property. 

However, the Mobile County trial judge dismissed both suits in their entirety, asserting that a frozen extrauterine embryo is not considered a “child” under the Wrongful Death of a Minor Act and that the couples had no grounds for the “negligence” claims.

In its Friday opinion, the Alabama Supreme Court reversed the first part of that decision, asserting that the frozen embryos do fall under the definition of a “child” in the Wrongful Death of a Minor Act despite existing outside of a “biological womb.” Besides citing several court cases where the Act protected unborn children in the past, the Court also stated, “[u]nborn children are ‘children’ under the Act, without exception based on developmental stage, physical location, or any other ancillary characteristics.” (Emphasis added.)

The Court also pointed to the Sanctity of Life Amendment, which was added to the state constitution in 2018. “People of this State,” the opinion emphasizes, “have adopted a Constitutional amendment directly aimed at stopping courts from excluding ‘unborn life’ from legal protection.”

Troy Newman, President of Operation Rescue, comments, “This is an incredibly significant victory as it continues to build legal precedent to support the right to life for every preborn child. Once more, Alabama is leading the way in upholding the sanctity of all human life and demonstrating to our nation that life is precious and worthy of our protection. May every state in America follow this strong example.”