A nonprofit, independent news source to inform, inspire, educate and connect the St. Louis Jewish community.

St. Louis Jewish Light

A nonprofit, independent news source to inform, inspire, educate and connect the St. Louis Jewish community.

St. Louis Jewish Light

A nonprofit, independent news source to inform, inspire, educate and connect the St. Louis Jewish community.

St. Louis Jewish Light

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Embryos ‘held hostage’: An Alabama court decision panics Jews relying on IVF


The Alabama Supreme Court’s recent ruling equating an embryo with a child is panicking American Jews who wonder where they can safely pursue fertility treatment and whether they will lose control over their frozen embryos.

Jewish groups that work to protect reproductive rights, and others that help Jews afford fertility treatments, have condemned the decision as both a violation of reproductive and religious rights. The ruling, they warn, has already had grave consequences for Jews and others in Alabama whose IVF clinics have shut down in response. But they are not yet sure of all the decision’s ramifications. 

“The scariest part is we’re supposed to be the experts to advise our clients,” said Elana Frank, founder and CEO of the Atlanta-based Jewish Fertility Foundation, which helps Jews afford fertility treatment. But “our attorneys and our doctors are freaking out.” 

IVF, which involves the insertion of an embryo into a patient’s uterus, is an expensive but often effective treatment for infertility.

Sheila Katz, CEO of the National Council of Jewish Women, said her organization has received hundreds of calls and emails this week about the ruling.

“People we know, people we don’t know, people’s parents — lots of people saying, ‘do I need to move my frozen embryos?’”

IVF patients frequently wind up with more embryos than are actually implanted and often choose to freeze them for possible future pregnancies. Many now fear that discarding those embryos would be considered murder in Alabama — and elsewhere under some state laws. And they worry that other states will follow Alabama’s lead. 

The Alabama judge who wrote Friday’s decision, which legal experts say is likely to be appealed, rooted it in a school of Christian belief which holds that life begins at conception. He quoted extensively from the Bible, and in a concurring opinion the court’s chief justice wrote: “Human life cannot be wrongfully destroyed without incurring the wrath of a holy God.”

Can you adopt an embryo?

Jewish law and traditions take a different and more nuanced view. Frank offered a widespread belief among Jews: “Embryos are potential children.”

The Jewish Fertility Foundation’s Birmingham, Alabama, office learned this week that both fertility programs it works with — the University of Alabama’s and Alabama Fertility Specialists — had paused all IVF treatment in response to the ruling. Now the foundation is scrambling to help many of its 50 Birmingham clients to transfer their care to Atlanta, home to another one of the foundation’s eight offices.

Nearly 100 people across the country tuned into an Instagram Live session Wednesday night, hosted by the foundation, which  featured an attorney specializing in family law to answer questions as best she could. 

“It feels like my embryos are being held hostage,” said one woman during the session. Others asked if they could move their embryos out of state, or whether donating an embryo was akin to an adoption.

Katz said that while she is not expecting a slew of states to pass laws or hand down rulings similar to Alabama’s within the next few weeks, this election cycle is likely to bring more challenges for who want to get pregnant and those who don’t.

After the Supreme Court’s Dobbs decision in 2022, which struck down the constitutional right to abortion, Katz said “the number one question we got from women across the country was ‘what do I do with my frozen embryos?’”  

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