News Articles

EXPLAINER: How Alabama’s IVF bill undermines the dignity of the unborn


In February 2024, the Alabama Supreme Court issued a ruling in favor of parents who had utilized in vitro fertilization (IVF) and had their embryos dropped and destroyed at the fertility clinic. The court stated that frozen embryos created and stored in IVF clinics can be considered children under state law. IVF is a medical procedure that involves “the harvesting of ovum from a woman and sperm from a man, both of which are prepared before fertilization of the egg(s) takes place in a lab.” This results in the creation of a human embryo, which is then implanted into the uterus to try to achieve pregnancy.

When IVF clinics said the ruling would force their closure, the public backlash was swift and led many politicians, both Democrat and Republican, to denounce the ruling. In response, legislators in Alabama rushed to pass a law that protects IVF providers from civil and criminal liability. The legislation offers civil and criminal immunity to providers and patients for the destruction or damage to embryos, retroactively applying to past cases. 

While recognizing the devastating realities of infertility, many pro-life organizations – including the ERLC – believe the new law is ill-considered, fails to protect unborn (also referred to as “preborn” by pro-life advocates) life, and is in opposition to the state’s constitution, which expressly protects the sanctity of life. Here are some of the thoughtful reasons pro-life Christians should also oppose this law and similar legislation. 

The new law is inconsistent in protecting unborn life.

In 2019, Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey signed a bill into law that prohibits almost all abortions in the state. Because of this law, unborn children in the womb are protected from being killed. Yet, the governor has also signed this new law, which explicitly states that unborn children outside the womb are not protected if they were created through the process of IVF. 

This makes the value of the unborn life dependent on the location of the child. 

As bioethicist Christopher Tollefsen recently pointed out, “The human embryo is a human being, whether in utero, undergoing cell division in vitro, or temporarily (or permanently) in frozen stasis in a ‘nursery,’ as the Alabama Supreme Court tellingly, but somewhat ironically, calls it.” However, this is the major dilemma with the ethics behind IVF: many individuals and families, whether through lack of education or misinformation, do not recognize that the embryo is a person.

The new law contradicts the “Sanctity of Life” provision in the Alabama Constitution.

In 2018, the people of Alabama voted “yes” to Amendment 2, adding a new amendment to the Alabama Constitution. The following text was included:

(a) This state acknowledges, declares, and affirms that it is the public policy of this state to recognize and support the sanctity of unborn life and the rights of unborn children, including the right to life.

(b) This state further acknowledges, declares, and affirms that it is the public policy of this state to ensure the protection of the rights of the unborn child in all manners and measures lawful and appropriate.

This was the law cited by the Alabama Supreme Court in its recent ruling when it declared that frozen embryos located in an IVF clinic were to be considered “children.” As the court noted, “That section of the [Alabama] constitution, which is titled ‘Sanctity of Unborn Life,’ operates in this context as a constitutionally imposed canon of construction, directing courts to construe ambiguous statutes in a way that ‘protect[s] … the rights of the unborn child’ equally with the rights of born children, whenever such construction is ‘lawful and appropriate.’”

The new law, however, violates both the spirit and letter of the state’s “Sanctity of Life” doctrine. In a rush to protect IVF clinics, state lawmakers have undermined their own constitution’s protections for the unborn. 

The reasoning behind the new law concerning IVF undermines protections for all unborn children.

One Republican state senator and medical doctor who previously voted for the Alabama pro-life constitutional amendment but also sponsored the immunity legislation said in a recent interview, “I think there’s just too much difference of opinion on when actual life begins.” 

He went on to say, “A lot of people say conception, a lot of people say implantation, a lot of people say heartbeat. I wish I had an answer.”

For more than four decades, Southern Baptists have affirmed that human life begins at conception. 

Conception, also known as fertilization, is the agreed upon biological and scientific standard for when life begins. A 2021 survey found that 96 percent of biologists in academia affirmed that human life begins at conception. 

This consensus is so well-established that it forced pro-abortion advocates to shift their primary basis for argumentation since the national debate first rose to prominence. For the past several decades, pro-abortion voices have mainly avoided the settled empirical question of when life begins and instead based their position on the more abstract determination of when “personhood” begins

Unfortunately, it appears that in an effort to aid couples in their infertility, some pro-life legislators are willing to undermine pro-life reasoning and protect the IVF industry. For example, if Melson is correct and it’s unclear on whether life begins at implantation (between 6-12 days after conception) or when a heartbeat can be detected (six to seven weeks after conception), then some may find it unclear why Alabama prohibits abortion in the early stages of pregnancy. 

Pro-life or anti-abortion?

Many parents today are navigating the complex and heart-wrenching journey of infertility and exploring options like IVF. Their deep desire to bring life into this world deserves profound respect. Their path is also one of immense emotional and often spiritual challenges, and it’s important to acknowledge the heavy burdens and moral dilemmas they face in this pursuit.

At the same time, we must not fail to consider the moral problems that arise from IVF. A prime example is how the recent debate about IVF is forcing many people to answer the question, “Are we truly pro-life or merely anti-abortion?” For Christians, the answer should be clear since the sanctity and protection of life, whether unborn or born, is deeply rooted in biblical teachings. 

Our pro-life convictions arise from the understanding that every individual, from conception, is created in the image of God (Genesis 1:27), endowing each life with inherent dignity and worth. Psalm 139:13-16 also illustrates God’s intimate involvement in the formation of life in the womb, underscoring the belief that life begins at conception. The psalmist acknowledges God’s hand in knitting each person together, a vivid imagery of the Creator’s care and purpose for every human being, even before birth. 

Additionally, the biblical principle of stewardship entrusts humans with the responsibility of caring for and protecting all of God’s creation, including the most vulnerable humans among us. This stewardship is especially pertinent in the context of unborn life created through means such as IVF, which, while a remarkable technological achievement, also raises significant ethical and philosophical considerations. 

Philosophical considerations 

Consider, for instance, the principle of biological continuity, which states that human life is a seamless process from conception to natural death, and any attempts to draw arbitrary lines at stages like birth or viability are both scientifically and philosophically unsound. From the moment of conception, the embryo is a distinct, living, and whole human organism, possessing the intrinsic capacity to develop through the various stages of human life. This is not merely a potential human being but a human being with potential, fundamentally no different in nature from a newborn, a child, or an adult.

There is also the principle of identity, that what makes one human is not a particular stage of development or the acquisition of certain abilities, but the continuity of existence as the same biological entity from conception onwards. Thus, from a moral standpoint, the embryo, as a human entity, inherently possesses the same moral status and dignity as a human being at any other stage of life.

If we truly want to be “pro-life,” Christians must uphold the value of all unborn lives, ensuring their protection and advocating for their right to life. Such advocacy reflects the inherent value that God places on each individual, regardless of the circumstances of their conception. May God use his people to promote a true culture of life in our nation through a consistent ethic that’s demonstrated in what we say and how we live. 

    About the Author

  • ERLC Staff