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Lawsuit filed on behalf of aborted embryo in Alabama

18 March 2019
Appeared in BioNews 991

In the first case of its kind, a lawyer will represent an aborted embryo in an Alabama court, potentially setting a precedent that could affect fertility treatments such as IVF.

Ryan Magers was granted the ability to file a wrongful death lawsuit on the embryo's behalf by Madison County's probate court. It will be the first time an aborted embryo – named 'Baby Roe' in court papers – has been recognised as having legal rights in a US court.

Magers is suing the Alabama Women's Centre for Reproductive Alternatives after his girlfriend – then aged 16 – terminated her pregnancy at six weeks gestation against his wishes.

The girl and her family wish to remain anonymous. Her father said the family was distraught, the Washington Post reports. 'We had a long discussion over what she was going to do when she got pregnant. And we said we would support her either way. They weren't married, and I felt, legally, it was her right to make that decision.' 

The lawsuit is one of the first to make use of an amended constitution passed in November 2018, whereby a so-called 'fetal personhood clause' was introduced as to recognise 'the rights of unborn children, including the right to life'.

Abortion-rights groups have expressed alarm regarding the precedent this case may set. Ilyse Hogue, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, called it a 'very scary case' on Twitter. The case implies that a woman's rights are 'third in line' behind those of the embryo or fetus and the man who impregnates her.

More broadly, a precedent could be set that affects not only access to abortion but also fertility treatments such as IVF. Professor Dov Fox, from the University of San Diego Centre for Health Law Policy and Bioethics, said that the implications could jeopardise 'our ability to use reproductive technologies, to access contraception – and potentially impose all kinds of restrictions on lives and freedoms of pregnant women', the Independent reported.

However, anti-abortion activists are more supportive of the lawsuit. Gualberto Garcia Jones, president of the Personhood Alliance, said that he was 'very hopeful that Alabama will continue to lead the country in standing up for the rights of the pre-born'.

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