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Opinion: I’m a Christian who underwent IVF in Alabama. The state Supreme Court decision is devastating for would-be parents

Opinion by Rebecca Mathews

(CNN) — Having struggled with infertility, I’ve spent nearly all of the past 10 years focusing solely on creating life. Our two children were conceived in Alabama through in-vitro fertilization (IVF), the science of creating, freezing and attempting to implant embryos in my womb. And although IVF is very much a wonder of modern science, as a Christian, I believe it is a gift from God.

But last week, a majority of justices on the Alabama Supreme Court ruled that embryos should be considered children, and that those who destroy them can be held liable for wrongful death. The decision could have wide-reaching ramifications for adults across the country whose only remaining chance of creating a child is IVF, which involves creating and freezing multiple embryos. And it also leaves countless would-be parents in the state right now without a path to conceiving the babies they so desperately want.

We first turned to IVF after about a year of a different fertility treatment — intrauterine insemination (IUI) — which took me on a monthly roller coaster from optimism during ovulation to devastation when I menstruated.

Unlike some people with infertility, I was relieved when my doctor recommended we move on to IVF, which has a much higher success rate. But my body was not done being cruel to my dream of motherhood. While I was able to give birth to my son, we had to use a surrogate to have another child — my daughter. 

During our excruciating IVF journey, we transferred a total of 12 embryos into my body, and I mourned the loss of all the ones that did not lead to a viable pregnancy. But if I regarded every one of my lost pregnancies as a living child, I might have permanently surrendered to the darkness and depression that engulfed me every time I miscarried.

I have family members in heaven who I believe have embraced these lost babies — but they were never babies here. They were our attempt to create a child. Now the court’s ruling giving them personhood status will ironically make it impossible for others to do the same out of fear of potential consequences.

Fertility doctors in Alabama — many of whom have already suspended care in the state — might now wonder whether they can be charged with murder or subject to a wrongful death lawsuit. Women who miscarry an embryo implanted through IVF may wonder if their actions are illegal, and if so, whether they will be prosecuted.

We have one embryo remaining in a Birmingham fertility clinic and have considered donating it to be used for scientific research, which could help save lives or increase the chances of parenthood for someone else. But following this court decision, could we be criminally charged for donating a mass of cells, which only exist because we chose to create them?

As a Christian who has led a Bible study for women struggling with infertility, I am upset that the court’s chief justice invoked religion to explain his decision. In referring to a 2018 “sanctity of unborn life” amendment to the state constitution, Chief Justice Tom Parker cited the book of Jeremiah, writing, “It is as if the People of Alabama took what was spoken of the prophet Jeremiah and applied it to every unborn person in this state: ‘Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, Before you were born I sanctified you.’” Justice Parker also quoted Genesis, stating, “Whoso sheddeth man’s blood, by man shall his blood be shed: for in the image of God made he man.”

I treasure the Bible’s teachings, and for us, creating embryos was the only path to fulfilling the Bible’s command to be fruitful and multiply. But I also know that it’s not my place to impose my religious beliefs on others, and I also know that religious beliefs are not the basis of law in our country. I’d like to know how many of the justices who conferred personhood on embryos know someone who had to create and miscarry multiple embryos in order to finally have a child.

Instead of protecting life, the decision to equate frozen embryos with a living, breathing baby could end the practice of IVF and prevent millions of wanted and loved children from ever being created. In its zeal to uphold Christianity, the Alabama Supreme Court may have ended the dream of a family for millions of people who want nothing more than the chance to bring a baby into the world.

Our daughter, who just celebrated her first birthday, is named after our fertility doctor and the wonderful woman who carried her for nine months. We, that doctor and her gestational surrogate all used the wonder of science to give her life. How devastating to think that if we were in the midst of IVF transfers right now, the court’s decision would have denied her the life she now lives with us.

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