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Chief justice candidates weigh in on IVF ruling

MONTGOMERY, Ala. – There’s just a week to go until Alabama’s primary elections on March 5, and the contest for Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice is one of the few competitive statewide races.

Last month’s ADN/Gray TV polling showed the race is a relatively low-information, low-interest affair. But could the recent bombshell court ruling impacting in-vitro fertilization treatments change that?

The two Republican candidates vying to lead the court seem to agree on the essence of the case, but one says the court’s ruling could lead to lawsuit abuse.

Former state senator Bryan Taylor, now candidate for chief justice, told Alabama Daily News that whether or not frozen embryos held the same legal protections as children was never a matter of dispute among those involved in the Supreme Court case.

What was a matter of contention, Taylor said, was how to navigate the impact the ruling could have on in vitro fertilization providers, many of which paused their services shortly after the ruling.

“Let’s be clear about what this case was really about; everyone in this case, including the defendant IVF clinic, agreed that the embryos were human beings whose lives began at fertilization,” Taylor told ADN.

“The court was clear that nobody disputed that. The only disagreement here was whether IVF clinics could be sued and held liable for the tragic, unintentional loss of those embryos under a specific Alabama statute.”

That statute, the 1872 Wrongful Death of a Minor Act, was what the court had ruled was applicable in the case of several destroyed frozen embryos that three couples had sued a Mobile IVF provider over, essentially granting frozen embryos the same legal protections as children and human fetuses in the womb.

While not disputing the court’s ruling, Taylor did say he was supportive of measures to protect IVF providers from litigation.

“As a pro-life conservative, I have fought abortion clinics in court and marched for life in front of Planned Parenthood, and I believe we can uphold the sanctity of life without subjecting IVF clinics to lawsuit abuse,” Taylor said.

“That’s within the purview of the Legislature, and I hope they act quickly with the dual aim to protect life and support families.”

Sarah Stewart, sitting Alabama Supreme Court justice and Taylor’s sole Republican opponent in next week’s primary, voted in favor of the ruling, but told ADN she was unable to directly comment on it given the Alabama Canons of Judicial Ethics prohibiting such commentary. 

Stewart did, however, join the majority opinion authored by Justice Jay Mitchell in his opinion including in the ruling, in which he cited not only the Wrongful Death of a Minor Act, but a 2018 amendment to the Alabama Constitution that affirmed the public policy of the state as recognizing and supporting “the sanctity of unborn life and the rights of unborn children.”

Stewart also signed onto the opinion of her fellow court justice Greg Shaw, who, in his own special concurrence included in the ruling, wrote that existing law, as it pertains to children, makes no distinction between frozen embryos and children.

“I agree with the main opinion that the meaning of the word ‘child’ for purposes of Alabama law is well settled and includes an unborn child,” Shaw wrote. “Thus, for purposes of the Wrongful Death of a Minor Act, the term ‘minor child’ includes an unborn child with no distinction between in vitro or in utero.”


An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that Justice Steward signed on to a concurring opinion from Chief Justice Tom Parker. The post has since been updated for accuracy. 

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