Activists worry Alabama embryo ruling violates church-state separation

When the Alabama Supreme Court ruled that frozen embryos are considered children under state law, the chief justice had higher authority in mind.

Chief Justice Tom Parker quoted the Bible and Christian theologians in his concurring opinion, warning those who advocate separation of church and state and pleasing religious conservatives who oppose abortion.

“Human life cannot be unjustly destroyed without incurring the wrath of a holy God, who would regard the destruction of His images as an affront to Himself,” Parker wrote.

Alabama health care providers suspend IVF treatments after state court rules, giving weight to infertility experts’ opinions

Last week’s decision in an Alabama state court stems from a wrongful death lawsuit brought by a couple whose frozen embryos were accidentally destroyed.

The most immediate impact of the ruling was to make Alabama’s IVF clinics potentially vulnerable to further litigation and reluctant to perform treatment. However, concerns were also raised about Parker’s explicit references to Christian theology.

Although Parker’s concurring opinion has no legal precedent, supporters of the separation of church and state worry that he could inspire judges in other states to push the envelope.

Exterior view of the Alabama Supreme Court building on February 20, 2024 in Montgomery, Alabama. The Alabama Supreme Court has ruled that frozen embryos can be considered children under state law. Critics said this could limit access to fertility treatment. (AP Photo/Kim Chandler)

“We are now seeing government officials emboldened to say the quiet parts loud and make sure that our democracy “We are now in a situation where we are directly challenging the separation of church and state, which is the foundation of the United Nations.” church and state.

He said Parker’s opinion is just the latest example of government officials championing Christian nationalism, a movement that seeks to privilege Christianity and fuse it with American identity. He said that it was a brazen example in that respect.

Other examples she cited include a Missouri lawmaker citing Catholic and Biblical teachings on abortion restrictions and U.S. House Speaker Mike Johnson saying the concept of separation of church and state in the United States is a “misnomer.” Examples include what was said.

Parker argued in his opinion that the court was simply enforcing the Alabama Constitution, which was amended in 2018 to recognize the “sanctity of the unborn child.” The principle “has deep roots that go back to the creation of man in the image of God,” Parker said, citing Genesis.

Parker has written extensively on many topics, from classic Christian theologians like St. Thomas Aquinas and John Calvin to the Manhattan Declaration, a modern conservative Christian manifesto opposing “anti-life” measures. interspersed his opinions with religious sources.

He also cited a Bible verse that has become legendary in the anti-abortion movement, in which God told the prophet Jeremiah, “Before I formed you in the womb, I “I knew that.”

The basis of the judgment

Mary Ziegler, a historian of the abortion debate and a law professor at the University of California, Davis, said the Alabama court’s decision that frozen embryos are children is an extension of the underlying ideology of the anti-abortion movement.

And it points to the influence of the conservative Christian Law movement, she said. In other words, the American position is that “the United States has an essentially Christian constitution,” but Ziegler and many historians deny this idea.

“I think the important thing for this movement was not just to get rid of Roe,” Ziegler said. “It was always about achieving fetal personhood,” the idea that human rights are conferred at conception.

Ziegler said the Alabama decision could influence decisions by courts and legislatures in other states, particularly the 11 states that already have fetal personhood language in their laws. But she said the case is unlikely to reach the Supreme Court because it is a question of interpretation of state law.

“Victory in life”

Some anti-abortion activists welcomed the ruling.

This is a “tremendous victory for life,” said leading Christian law firm Alliance Defending Freedom. Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, said: “It’s a beautiful defense of life.”

Freedom attorneys filed a notice with the Florida Supreme Court saying the Alabama decision, including Parker’s concurrence, should be factored into a pending ruling on a state constitutional amendment protecting abortion rights.

“The life of an unborn child must be protected at every step,” Liberty Counsel Chairman Matt Staver said in a statement.

Still, Christian views on IVF are mixed and in some cases undecided.

Although the Catholic Church condemns such reproductive techniques as immoral, many Protestant churches and denominations have not taken a firm stance against the practice.

Kellyanne Conway, a political consultant who worked for former President Donald Trump, urged Republican lawmakers in December to support contraception and sterilization treatment. She cited her own firm’s findings that even anti-abortion evangelicals overwhelmingly support access to IVF.

Justice Parker’s Mission

Mr. Parker is no stranger to church-state debates.

He served as a spokesman for former Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore during the dispute over the Ten Commandments monument he erected in the Supreme Court building.

Parker is a member of Fraser Church, a Montgomery megachurch that was part of the United Methodist Church until 2022. The congregation left amid a split in the UMC over LGBTQ clergy and a denomination that did not support marriage bans, but is now part of the Free Methodist Church, a more conservative denomination.

Neither United Methodists nor Free Methodists specifically condemn IVF in their church doctrine. The Free Methodist Book of Discipline emphasizes the value of human life in all its stages. The report says that while reproductive technology offers hope, it also raises a number of “ethical, medical, legal and theological questions.”

Parker is the founding executive director of what is now called the Alabama Policy Institute, which is affiliated with the evangelical ministry Focus on the Family. Focus on the Family recommends on its website that couples not freeze or discard embryos created during IVF.

Fertility experts say IVF, which does not use frozen embryos, is likely to increase the cost of infertility treatment and reduce a patient’s chances of having a baby.

A setback for secular states?

Religious groups have different opinions about the beginning of life, so “it would be very problematic for judges to incorporate essentially Christian views into state law,” said University of Pittsburgh Law School Associate Professor, who specializes in bioethics and health. Greer Donley said.

She said other judges may increasingly apply religious thinking to their rulings.

“It’s particularly noteworthy that (Parker) didn’t try to hide it, but even if the judge were careful with his language, the result would be essentially the same,” Donley said.

Americans United’s Laser said he also has problems with the Alabama court’s majority decision, which does not explicitly mention religion. It states that all participants in the case “agree that the fetus is a genetically unique human being whose life begins at fertilization and ends at death.”

“It doesn’t take into account all the people this policy will be imposed on, including religious minorities, non-religious people, and Christians with different belief systems,” Laser said. “It undermines true religious freedom.”