Nikki Haley describes embryos as ‘babies’ and backs controversial Alabama ruling

Nikki Haley describes embryos as ‘babies’ and backs controversial Alabama ruling

Nikki Haley has voiced her support for a controversial Alabama Supreme Court ruling that defined frozen embryos as unborn children.

“Embryos, to me, are babies,” she told NBC News in an interview on Wednesday. “When you talk about an embryo, you are talking about, to me, that’s a life. And so I do see where that’s coming from when they talk about that.”

The former United Nations ambassador, who is in the midst of a longshot bid to secure the Republican presidential nomination for 2024, is the most high-profile member of her party to support the court’s decision.

Her comments are likely to stoke fears that anti-abortion campaigners will target IVF procedures that account for around 2 per cent of births in the US today — many of them to couples who might not have been able to conceive otherwise.

The ruling may force clinics that provide in vitro fertilisation, or IVF, treatment to close over fears of being held liable for any damage to embryos during the freezing process.

The University of Alabama at Birmingham health system announced on Wednesday that it had paused IVF procedures over fears it could be criminally prosecuted.

“We must evaluate the potential that our patients and our physicians could be prosecuted criminally or face punitive damages for following the standard of care for IVF treatments,” spokesperson Hannah Echols said in a statement.

The ruling, handed down by the state’s highest court last week, stems from a bizarre 2020 case in which a patient destroyed several embryos at an IVF clinic in Alabama. In a decision that could have profound consequences forboth patients seeking fertility care and the medical professionals that provide it, the state’s highest court allowed for a wrongful death lawsuit to be brought over the accident.

By classifying the frozen embryos as unborn children in their ruling, the justices opened the way for three couples whose fertilised embryos were destroyed to seek damages from the clinic for wrongful death.

Alabama Justice Jay Mitchell wrote in the majority ruling last week that an 1872 state law allowing parents to sue over the death of a minor child also applied to embryos.

“Unborn children are ‘children’ ... without exception based on developmental stage, physical location, or any other ancillary characteristics,” he wrote.

The American Society of Reproductive Medicine (ASRM) described the ruling as a “medically and scientifically unfounded decision.”

“The court held that a fertilized frozen egg in a fertility clinic freezer should be treated as the legal equivalent of an existent child or a fetus gestating in a womb,” Dr Paula Amato, president of ASRM, said in a statement. “The eight members of the court who approved this decision may view these things as the same, but science and everyday common sense tell us they are not.”

The process of IVF often requires the fertilisation of many eggs to increase the chance that one will become a viable pregnancy. The embryo with the best chance of succeeding in the womb will be transferred, while the rest are usually frozen and kept in case the transfer fails or the patient wants to have another child. If the patient no longer requires the embryos, they are discarded.