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SCOTX May Take Up Local Divorce Dispute Over Embryos

IVF micromanipulator with Petri Dish | Image by Healthy Definition/Shutterstock
IVF micromanipulator with Petri Dish | Image by Healthy Definition/Shutterstock

The Texas Supreme Court is reportedly considering whether to take up a Denton divorce case that raises the question of whether frozen embryos should be treated as people or property.

The case revolves around Caroline and Gaby Antoun, a couple whose marital dissolution has escalated into a legal showdown over the fate of three frozen embryos, reported The Texas Tribune. Prior to beginning IVF treatments, the couple agreed that in the event of a divorce, any unused embryos would belong to Gaby. However, Caroline now contends that recent changes in Texas’ abortion laws demand a reevaluation of the embryos’ status, arguing that they should be treated as persons, which would require the court to determine custody — the same as for any child.

“Now that Roe is no longer law, the Court has the opportunity to reclassify embryos as unborn children rather than property, and to, after far too long, recognize and protect the rights of those unborn children and their parents,” Caroline’s lawyers wrote in their petition to the Texas Supreme Court, reported the Tribune.

Gaby’s attorney, Patrick Wright, disagrees.

“It’s a case where two people got together and were planning for their family, and they entered into an agreement,” Wright said, per the Tribune. “This is a family issue and if — and it’s a big if — the courts are getting involved, they’d be doing essentially the thing that has been complained about for years, which is adding something that’s not there.”

Legal scholars and fertility experts alike are closely monitoring the proceedings, recognizing the potential shift that a ruling favoring embryo personhood could entail in Texas. Such a decision would not only redefine the legal landscape surrounding IVF but also raise profound ethical and logistical questions about the disposition of frozen embryos, according to the Tribune.

“Recognizing ‘personhood’ status for a frozen embryo, as requested by Petitioner, would upend IVF in Texas,” reads an amicus brief from the American Society for Reproductive Medicine, per the Tribune. Such a decision would “inject untenable uncertainty into whether and on what terms IVF clinics can continue to operate in Texas.”

The case at hand resembles recent legal battles in other states, including Alabama’s groundbreaking decision to grant personhood status to frozen embryos under its wrongful death statute. In February, Alabama’s Supreme Court categorized frozen embryos as human beings, sparking swift repercussions. IVF clinics throughout the state halted treatments until legislative safeguards for the procedure were enacted and signed into law by the governor, as reported by WFAA.

Earlier this month, U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) introduced the IVF Protection Act alongside Sen. Katie Britt (R-AL) in a bid to safeguard in vitro fertilization. The bill aims to bar states from receiving Medicaid funds if they choose to ban IVF in light of recent legal challenges threatening the procedure’s availability, per the Tribune.

Cruz and Britt assert that their legislation seeks to uphold both the sanctity of life and the rights of families, framing IVF as a cornerstone of American parenthood deserving of bipartisan protection.

“IVF has given miraculous hope to millions of Americans, and it has given families across the country the gift of children. I’m proud to partner with Sen. Katie Britt to ensure that couples in Texas and across the country have the opportunity to be loving parents by ensuring that IVF is fully protected at the federal level,” said Cruz.

According to a recent survey by the Pew Research Center, there has been a notable increase in familiarity with fertility treatments among Americans. More than four in 10 adults (42%) report having either utilized fertility treatments themselves or know someone who has, marking a significant uptick from 33% reported five years prior.

The decision on whether the Supreme Court will take up the case is still pending.

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