Home Christian News The Alabama Ruling on Embryos Claimed To Be Christian. Christians Aren’t so...

The Alabama Ruling on Embryos Claimed To Be Christian. Christians Aren’t so Sure.

In this Oct. 2, 2018, file photo, containers holding frozen embryos and sperm are stored in liquid nitrogen at a fertility clinic in Fort Myers, Fla. The Alabama Supreme Court ruled on Feb. 16, 2024, that frozen embryos can be considered children under state law, a ruling critics said could have sweeping implications for fertility treatments. The decision was issued in a pair of wrongful death cases brought by three couples who had frozen embryos destroyed in an accident at a fertility clinic. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky, File)

(RNS) — When Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Tom Parker issued his concurring opinion earlier this month in the court’s controversial ruling declaring frozen embryos children, he did so with an unapologetically religious flair.

The Feb. 16 ruling — which has resulted in all but halting in vitro fertilization procedures, which can use frozen embryos to help people become pregnant, in the state — drew on anti-abortion language in the Alabama Constitution to conclude embryos created during IVF have the same rights as children.

Parker, amid references to theologians and the Bible, concluded that by declaring frozen embryos children, Alabama was modeling a “theologically based view of the sanctity of life” that insists “human life cannot be wrongfully destroyed without incurring the wrath of a holy God.”

Parker may have presented his policy position as rooted in an authoritative Christian view, but he may be in the minority when it comes to his fellow religious Americans — including Christians.

While personal views on IVF are harder to assess, there seems to be broad familiarity with the practice among religious groups. When Pew Research asked adult respondents last year whether they have used fertility treatments to have children or know anyone who has, white Catholics were the mostly likely to say yes (55%), followed by white mainline Protestants (48%), white evangelicals (44%) — all higher percentages than those who identified as atheist or claimed no particular religion (40%).

Hispanic Catholics (29%) and Black Protestants (26%) were the least likely to say they used fertility treatments or know someone who has, although Pew researchers told Religion News Service that finding “appears to be driven more by differences across race and ethnicity than religion.” In addition, the researchers elsewhere noted that wealthier people are more likely to say they’ve used fertility treatments or know someone who has, an “unsurprising” finding given the high cost of IVF, which can range from $15,000 to $20,000.

Some of the outspoken opinions on IVF fall along predictable lines, mirroring that of the abortion debate: Religious advocates for abortion rights support IVF, the Catholic leadership opposes it. But IVF is arguably a narrower issue: Even among religious groups that seek to ban abortion, many do not agree that the destruction of frozen embryos is the same as taking a life. Some mainline denominations do not even have an official position on IVF, such as the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.

Other groups have openly praised the practice, particularly more liberal-leaning mainline denominations. The Episcopal Church has endorsed IVF since 1982, and the United Church of Christ passed a resolution at its 1989 General Assembly that referenced IVF before declaring that the denomination “supports the rights of families to make decisions regarding their use of the reproductive technologies.”

“A lot has changed in the field of reproductive technologies since 1989, but our values have been consistent in this regard,” the Rev. Shari Prestemon, the UCC’s current acting associate general minister, told RNS in a statement. “We support the rights of individuals and families to make these very private decisions for themselves, and urge care and compassion for these families along what can often be such a painful and challenging journey.”

Even denominations that have expressed ambivalence about abortion have nonetheless voiced openness to IVF. Although the United Methodist Church has issued statements saying it is “reluctant to approve abortion” and declared in 2016 that people “should not create embryos with the sole intention of destroying them,” it grants an exception for IVF. A denominational resolution stated that “obtaining and fertilizing multiple ova may be justified” even if embryos are lost, because it helps “avoid the necessity of multiple attempts to obtain ova.”

Religious advocates for abortion rights were among the first to voice outrage over the Alabama court’s ruling, arguing that it furthers a disputed theological claim about when life begins — one not shared by all religious Americans.

“I don’t think anyone could make a biblical claim about this because the technology of IVF is very modern,” said the Rev. Katey Zeh, the head of the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice, a group that advocates for abortion rights.