'Widespread fear and confusion': Alabama ruling that embryos are children could impact neighboring Georgia

In this Tuesday, Oct. 2, 2018 photo, containers holding frozen embryos and sperm are stored in liquid nitrogen at a fertility clinic in Fort Myers, Fla. The Alabama Supreme Court ruled, Friday, Feb. 16, 2024, that frozen embryos can be considered children under state law, a ruling critics said could have sweeping implications for fertility treatments. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky, File)

The Alabama Supreme Court has ruled that frozen embryos – or a fertilized egg before it develops into a fetus – are considered children under state law.

Abortion rights advocates worry that the ruling could have sweeping consequences for fertility treatments and health care across the state and other states that have passed, or are pushing, more restrictive abortion laws.

With Georgia being a neighboring state, patients and providers are raising questions about future options.

The Alabama ruling Friday by the all-Republican court comes from a pair of wrongful death lawsuits filed by several couples who underwent in vitro fertilization, or IVF. In 2020, their frozen embryos were destroyed in an accident at a fertility clinic.

The state high court has since ruled that unborn children located outside of a biological uterus at the time they are killed are still children, and they are covered under Alabama’s Wrongful Death of a Minor law.

“Unborn children are ‘children’ … without exception based on developmental stage, physical location or any other ancillary characteristics,” Justice Jay Mitchell wrote in Friday’s ruling.

One abortion rights and pregnancy defense organization has been focused on providing free, confidential legal services.

If/When/How Senior Helpline Attorney Elizabeth Ling hears daily calls and assists people in understanding the laws around a variety of reproductive experiences. 

She joined WABE’s “Morning Edition” to discuss the rulings’ implications, and not just for parents in Alabama.