Last week, Alabama took the unprecedented step of recognizing frozen embryos as children. In an 8-1 decision, the state’s Supreme Court ruled that embryos are children “without exception based on developmental stage, physical location, or any other ancillary characteristics.” The decision stemmed from wrongful death claims after embryos stored at an IVF clinic were inadvertently destroyed.

The ruling has reverberated across the nation, with some people falsely saying that Alabama essentially banned in vitro fertilization, and others claiming that the ruling will be used to pass abortion bans in other states. It is true that the ruling is cause for celebration for those of us who believe that life begins at conception. Equally important, it will start long-overdue conversations about the embryos that are created and discarded in the quest to have a child.

Although the pro-life movement has focused almost exclusively on abortion, IVF presents some of the same moral concerns that abortion does — namely, that life is viewed as disposable simply because of its early stage of development. In abortion, a pregnancy is ended; in IVF, new life is created, often just to be destroyed.

As a Catholic who has struggled to conceive, this tension is particularly relevant to me. The Catholic Church does not permit IFV, and knowing this, I was obligated to follow the church’s teaching despite a lengthy battle against endometriosis that, at one point, fused some of my internal organs. Eventually, by treating the cause of my infertility, I was able to conceive.

Many people, of course, don’t have an outcome like mine, and want children so much that they are willing to bear the expense and uncertain outcomes of IVF. And many churches have a more nuanced view of IVF than mine does, some saying that the procedure should only involve a husband and wife, others that clinics should only produce the exact number of embryos that will be implanted.

In the Alabama case, three families had frozen embryos in storage, and malfeasance by clinic staff led to thawing — and ultimately the death of the embryos. The families affected had no way to recover their losses under the current law and so they sued. While lower courts sided with the fertility clinic, the Supreme Court ruled that, for the purpose of wrongful death cases, embryos, like unborn fetuses, can be considered children, creating an avenue for those families to pursue compensation for their loss.

In the aftermath of the decision, the largest hospital in Alabama announced it will pause IVF procedures. But one Alabama doctor told The Washington Post that she expects the medical community will work with lawmakers to “carve out a middle ground that allows IVF treatments to continue,” and The New York Times reported Friday that these negotiations are already under way. There are also options that don’t involve the destruction or permanent storage of embryos, such as changes to how IFV clinics operate, and embryo adoption.

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Those of us who oppose abortion believe that human life has inherent dignity and worth, from conception to natural death. Caught up in that belief are myriad political arguments, from abortion to capital punishment, from health care and welfare to food programs and education. IVF has been part of this discussion since the first baby was born from the procedure in 1978.

In 2012, Pope Benedict opined on the consequences of in vitro fertilization, including the threat of designer babies, the commodification of children, and the wholesale destruction of human lives that aren’t recognized as human lives. But this is not just a Catholic position. In his podcast this week, Albert Mohler Jr., president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, praised the court ruling, saying he hopes the decision “will prompt a lot of moral thinking.”

“The hard thing is that many who consider themselves pro-life have refused to extend their own logic to the huge moral crisis posed by IVF procedures. The blunt and unavoidable question is this, do pro-lifers really believe what they say? Do we really believe that unborn children are children? If not, then we’ve been lying to ourselves and to everyone else. But if we really do believe this, how do we reckon with the fact that there are millions of frozen children locked in indefinite freeze and destined for destruction due to IVF procedures?” Mohler said.

For abortion opponents, IVF has always been something of an undercurrent — after all, many of the same people who oppose abortion want big families themselves and IVF is a way to grow your family if you happen to have trouble conceiving naturally. Because so many people use IVF — about 2% of babies born in the U.S. were conceived through IVF — we tend not to think too critically about the implications, even if they are fairly dire.

The Alabama court’s decision is the right one, not just from a Catholic perspective. As more couples pursue IVF and produce unused embryos, we have to figure out how we treat those decidedly human children. The Alabama Supreme Court has given urgency to this important conversation.

Emily Zanotti is a writer, commentator and communications consultant living in Nashville, Tennessee. You can find her writing on motherhood in her Substack and her notes and recipes on X.