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Lawmakers in more than a dozen states are considering fetal personhood bills


The Alabama Legislature could vote soon on whether to protect in vitro fertilization treatments.


IVF treatments there are largely on hold after the state Supreme Court said fertilized eggs have the same rights as children. It's not just Alabama where lawmakers are debating whether a fetus is a person.

MARTIN: NPR's Ryland Barton is with us now with the latest and also some broader context about this. Good morning.


MARTIN: OK, so let's start with the new development in Alabama. We've been waiting on bills to be introduced to address last week's state Supreme Court ruling. And I take it we now have them.

BARTON: Yeah, we do. So just a quick reminder how we got here. This all stems from a lawsuit by three Alabama couples whose frozen embryos were accidentally destroyed by a fertility clinic. Justices ruled that an 1872 law allowing parents to sue over the death of a child applies to, quote, "unborn children." This immediately raised concerns about in vitro fertilization in the state.

There's a lot of pressure to come up with a quick legislative fix for this, and yesterday afternoon, state Republican lawmakers proposed two bills that would exempt IVF from the effect of the ruling. However, one key measure no longer includes a definition of viability for an embryo. That's - that bill's author told Troy Public Radio he took that out of his draft in order to get the bill passed. That means even if this bill becomes law, frozen embryos would remain children, as defined by the state Supreme Court.

MARTIN: So, you know, this ruling has gotten attention far beyond Alabama. Why is that?

BARTON: Yeah. So because the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, the constitutional right to abortion, ever since that ruling two years ago, states have been in charge of regulating abortion, and advocates have been on the lookout for anything that further erodes reproductive rights.

And, of course, this is also a big election year, and Republicans are worried about this issue. So shortly after the ruling, GOP presidential front-runner Donald Trump said he supports IVF. And in a memo obtained by NPR, the fundraising arm for the Senate Republicans warned their candidates that the ruling could be, quote, "fodder for Democrats hoping to manipulate the abortion issue for electoral gain."

MARTIN: Is there a sense that what happened in Alabama could affect other states?

BARTON: Well, not directly, but it does raise these questions about fetal personhood. And since Roe v. Wade was overturned, Republican policymakers in some states are trying to restrict reproductive rights through this fetal personhood mechanism.

I spoke with Candace Gibson. She's the state policy director at the Guttmacher Institute, which supports abortion rights and tracks abortion legislation. She says the Alabama decision could reverberate in other states.

CANDACE GIBSON: I am fearful that other anti-abortion judges and lawyers will be emboldened by this ruling and trying to really replicate those efforts. I would be surprised if they didn't.

BARTON: In fact, 14 states are already considering fetal personhood bills now, though they try to do it in different ways.

MARTIN: So what different ways?

BARTON: So Republican lawmakers in Colorado and Iowa proposed bills this year that would define personhood as beginning at fertilization when it comes to homicide and wrongful death laws, and that includes no exceptions for IVF. At least six states have bills that would allow women to seek child support for fetuses. Georgia already has a law like that on the books. And although these proposals don't explicitly have anything to do with IVF, reproductive rights advocates say that even granting limited protections to embryos and fetuses could have broader implications, like we saw in Alabama.

MARTIN: That is NPR's Ryland Barton. Ryland, thank you.

BARTON: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Ryland is the state capitol reporter for the Kentucky Public Radio Network, a group of public radio stations including WKU Public Radio. A native of Lexington, Ryland has covered politics and state government for NPR member stations KWBU in Waco and KUT in Austin.