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An uptick in state personhood bills fuels growing fears over IVF restrictions

By 37ci3 Feb26,2024



Following the recent Alabama Supreme Court ruling on embryos is considered a child created through in vitro fertilization, reproductive rights groups are raising the alarm about so-called fetal personhood laws in other states, which they say could be interpreted to limit IVF treatments if passed.

As of Friday, at least 14 state legislatures had introduced fetal identity laws during their ongoing 2024 session, according to abortion rights research groups the Center for Reproductive Rights and the Guttmacher Institute. It marks the latest in a surge of such bills since the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2022 ruling in Dobbs Jackson Women’s Health overturned a national right to abortion in the United States.

“Since Dobbs, we’ve seen a marked increase in identity bills being introduced in state legislatures across the country,” Elizabeth Smith, director of public policy and advocacy at the Center for Reproductive Rights, told NBC News.

“What’s happening in Alabama is extreme, but it doesn’t happen in a vacuum. This is the chaos created by the Dobbs decision,” he added.

For years, anti-abortion lawmakers at the state and federal levels have pushed personhood laws aimed at establishing that an embryo or fetus has the full rights of a person, based on the idea that life begins at conception.

Reproductive rights groups have long warned that such proposals could be interpreted by judges in ways that could limit or effectively ban IVF.

Prior to the 2022 Dobbs ruling, identification attempts were largely anticipated deny the right to abortion. Although reproductive rights advocates were troubled by them, the 1973 Roe v. According to the Wade decision, the ability of such measures to go further remained largely theoretical.

Even before the Dobbs decision, at least 11 states had broad personhood laws or policies on the books designed to increase murder and assault statutes when the victim was pregnant. According to the reproductive rights nonprofit group Pregnancy Justice.

With the landmark Roe decision protecting those rights, efforts by conservative lawmakers and judges to advance fetal identity laws pose a real threat to some fertility treatments, including IVF, reproductive rights advocates say.

Supreme Court of Alabama decision finding this month that frozen embryos created through IVF are considered children under state law — meaning that people could theoretically be sued for destroying an embryo — made those threats even more apparent and raised concerns that proposals elsewhere could have similar results.

Among the newly proposed bills is one Florida It would give parents the right to seek civil damages for the “wrongful death” of an “unborn child” — though its sponsor in the state Senate said it was delaying the bill after Monday’s backlash.

The bill proposed allowing such claims when the death was caused by “wrongful act, negligence, default, or breach of contract or warranty” — leading some opponents to fear that the language could be interpreted to include the destruction of embryos.

The proposed legislation makes it clear that the “mother” cannot be sued under the law – but there is no protection for anyone else, including medical and health professionals.

Florida had Republican lawmakers he suggested correction to the bill, the the same week Alabama verdict, for determine An “unborn child” as a person “at any stage of development, carried in the mother’s womb”. The amendment would likely protect IVF patients and doctors, but it remains unclear whether it will be in any final version that the full Legislature will vote on.

But on Monday – After many anti-abortion rights, the Republicans joined the reproductive rights groups and the Democrats The need to protect IVF – The bill’s sponsor in the Florida Senate, state Sen. Erin Grall, said she “wants” it to be “temporarily put on hold right now.”

“It is my understanding that this is the first time that this issue has been addressed by the Florida Legislature. While I have worked diligently to address questions and concerns, I understand that there is still work to be done. The policy is right on this important issue,” Grall said.

House of Bill sponsorstate Rep. Jenna Persons-Mulicka did not immediately respond to questions about whether she would do the same.

Persons-Mulicka told NBC News on Friday that the bill “does not address and does not affect IVF in Florida.”

“The bill we’re proposing is very different from the Alabama law,” he said.

It is also included in the list of state bills proposed this year one in Kansas This makes it legal for pregnant people to claim child support for their unborn children anytime after conception.

The draft law clarifies the term “unborn child”. like both human “in utero,” as well as “in any state of pregnancy from conception to birth,” raises questions about how the latter version might be interpreted by a conservative court.

In Kansas, bills are first introduced by legislative committees, not individual lawmakers. State Sen. Mike Thompson, who introduced the bill, and Rick Kloos, chairman and vice chairman of the Federal and State Affairs Committee, did not respond to questions about the proposal.

Elsewhere, Republican lawmakers Colorado and Iowa introduced bills this year that would define personhood as beginning before fertilization for purposes of those states’ murder, wrongful death and assault laws, except for embryos created by IVF.

“We know that identity is and has been a goal of the anti-abortion movement, and there are often attempts to further construct it in several different ways. Identity efforts further criminalize pregnancy outcomes and self-administered abortions, as well as stigmatize IVF care and other assisted reproductive techniques, which are already heavily stigmatized and often inaccessible due to cost,” said Maya Cherins, spokeswoman for the organization. said. Guttmacher Institute.

Other states where lawmakers have proposed various fetal identity bills in the current legislative session include Alaska, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Massachusetts, Missouri, New York, Oklahoma, South Carolina and Utah, according to the Center for Reproductive Rights and the Guttmacher Institute. both follow such suggestions.

Representatives of the groups noted that there are several different categories of laws already in force, making it difficult to predict whether they could be subject to unintended interpretations.

For example, many states have statutes on the books that allow people to sue for damages in the wrongful death of a fetus, although most contain clarifying language that the fetus is viable (usually around 24 weeks of gestation).

Other states protect identity with exceptionally nuanced legal distinctions. Louisiana, for example, has had a law on the books since 1986 that defines an embryo as a “legal person” but not a “legal person” — a law supporters argue is specifically designed to prohibit the destruction of embryos. .

But at least four states have passed strong ID laws in recent years.

Georgia’s 2019 six-week abortion ban, which went into effect after Roe was struck down, includes a provision that allows a pregnant woman to announce her fetus has a detectable heartbeat (in some cases around six weeks). depending on state taxes.

The law in Missouri is broad determines Life begins “at conception,” and it says every “unborn child at every stage of development” is granted “all the rights, privileges, and immunities available to other persons, citizens, and residents” of the state. But the statue has an interpretation raised difficult legal questions.

Beginning in 2021, Arizona’s personhood law will define any biological stage after conception as “persons,” including fetuses, embryos, and fertilized eggs. The law remains blocked by the courts.

And in 2018, Alabama voters passed an amendment to the state constitution stating that public policy recognizes and supports “the sanctity of unborn life and the rights of unborn children, including the right to life,” and “ensures the protection of rights.” protect the rights of the unborn child by all lawful and appropriate measures” — a measure relied upon in part by the state Supreme Court in its ruling last week.

Planned Parenthood Southeast President Carol McDonald said the decision “could ripple across the country at the state and federal level as identity laws proliferate.”



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