Sympathy for ‘fetal personhood’ – the argument used in Alabama court’s shocking IVF decision – already exists in NC’s court system

Sympathy for ‘fetal personhood’ – the argument used in Alabama court’s shocking IVF decision – already exists in NC’s court system

The Alabama Supreme Court declared last week that frozen embryos are children in the eyes of the law. The decision was shocking and unprecedented – and it could end up impacting reproductive rights in North Carolina and other states.

Following the ruling, other state courts will be able to cite the Alabama case as precedent when presented with a similar case. In the 10 days since the ruling, hospitals and clinics across Alabama have already halted IVF treatments due to fears over the new legal risks providers are facing because of the decision.

The fallout of the ruling could go past infertility treatments and begin to play a role in the battle over other reproductive rights and freedoms in America – such as abortion.

“The ruling gives credence to the concept of ‘fetal personhood,’ which has been a goal of the anti-abortion movement in the United States for decades,” wrote The Charlotte Observer’s Paige Masten in an opinion piece this week.

She went on to note that these laws “would grant fetuses the same rights and protections of any born person. Under such laws, abortion could then be considered murder, and therefore outlawed entirely.”

The chances of something like that happening in North Carolina are not out of the realm of possibility, especially because of the conservative state Supreme Court’s increasingly political (and personal) actions and rulings.

Several recent court decisions on reproductive rights were made in cases that were not at all related to abortion. The Alabama fetal personhood decision came out of wrongful death lawsuits filed by couples whose frozen embryos were destroyed in an accident at a fertility clinic. A state law that allows parents to sue over the death of a minor child allowed the court to rule that “minor child” includes unborn children, even embryos.

Sympathy for the idea of “fetal personhood” already exists in North Carolina’s courts after an appeals court ruling from October 2023 declared that “life begins at conception.” The decision terminated a mother’s parental rights for her actions while she was pregnant. The ruling was later withdrawn after weeks of criticism from the legal community.

The judge who wrote the decision, Hunter Murphy, is running for reelection. Before last October’s ruling, he was best known for being censured by the state Supreme Court in 2020 for enabling a “toxic work environment.” According to the court order, Murphy hired his high school friend as his executive assistant in 2016. The friend soon began bullying and sexually harassing his coworkers. Murphy also took part in making jokes and sexual comments about his employees and he was accused of ignoring complaints from female employees about his friend’s behavior.

The other Republican judge who joined in the opinion, Jefferson Griffin, is now running for the North Carolina Supreme Court seat currently held by Democratic Justice Allison Riggs.

Patrick Zarcone

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