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Fetal personhood laws, explained

Vox: “The Alabama Supreme Court touched off a nationwide furor in February when it ruled that frozen, fertilized embryos legally count as “children.” The ruling upended the lives of patients undergoing IVF in Alabama and opened up a new front in the post-Dobbs battle over abortion rights. It also revived interest in — and concern over — so-called “fetal personhood” laws, which give fetuses, and in some cases embryos, the legal rights of a person. These laws, on the books in more than a third of states, have long worried reproductive rights advocates because they can be used to prosecute pregnant people for miscarrying or potentially for undergoing necessary medical procedures. Now some fear that the Alabama ruling could open the door to more courts applying the laws to frozen embryos, jeopardizing IVF treatments across large swaths of the country. The Alabama decision actually rests on the state’s Wrongful Death of a Minor Act, which allows the parents of a deceased child to sue people who caused the child’s death, as Vox’s Ian Millhiser reports. The state Supreme Court decided that fertilized embryos counted as children for the purposes of this law. Still, the ruling has focused attention on personhood laws because they, too, could be used to grant rights to embryos. Such an outcome could imperil IVF treatments, since they involve the storage, transportation, and sometimes destruction of embryos. A large majority of Americans, including conservatives, support access to IVF. But some anti-abortion groups oppose the procedure, and the controversy has emerged as one of the major fault lines in a chaotic post-Dobbs landscape. Many Americans, including lawmakers, “didn’t realize what the effects would be post-Dobbs” on the full spectrum of reproductive health, Candace Gibson, director of state policy at the Guttmacher Institute, told Vox. “This is a shock to the system.”..

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