Central Conference of American Rabbis Condemns Alabama Supreme Court Ruling on the Status of Embryos

February 26, 2024

The Central Conference of American Rabbis is appalled by a recent Alabama Supreme Court ruling that frozen embryos should be considered as children, and therefore, that destroying an embryo frozen for in vitro fertilization in a laboratory constitutes actionable death of a minor child. This ruling further attenuates reproductive freedom in a state where people must already travel great distances to access the full range of reproductive care. Alabama and neighboring states already enforce a total abortion ban or severely restrict abortion rights. This ruling means that residents of Alabama must now travel to access in vitro fertilization (IVF) in addition to reproductive healthcare.

As a result of this Supreme Court ruling, the University of Alabama at Birmingham Hospital, the state’s largest hospital, has suspended all IVF procedures.  Additionally, two other centers have suspended IVF procedures, which is critical medical care for some individuals and couples who face challenges to their fertility. 

In his concurring opinion, Alabama Chief Justice Tom Parker makes explicit that the Court’s ruling is a religious, not a legal, act. He quotes Christian theologians, including John Calvin and St. Thomas Aquinas extensively, and concludes: “Even before birth, all human beings have the image of God, and their lives cannot be destroyed without effacing his [sic] glory.”[1] This ruling is therefore a violation of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution, which prohibits the establishment of a state religion.

Our Talmudic sages understood that an embryo had the potential to grow into a person and also held the potential of not developing. They declared that “the embryo is considered to be mere water until the fortieth day [after conception].”[2] Judaism does not grant the status of personhood to an embryo or fetus at any stage of pregnancy.[3] Moreover, p’ru ur’vu, the mitzvah to be fruitful and multiply, is among the highest blessings in our tradition. Therefore, Jewish authorities across the ideological spectrum strongly support the availability of reproductive endocrinology to assist individuals and couples struggling with infertility.

Reform rabbis do not ask that Jewish law be enshrined in the laws of the United States or any state. We demand, however, that individuals in this free country be permitted to make their own choice about engaging the use of in vitro fertilization and other reproductive technologies. The government should not limit their choices in this matter. Indeed, many Reform rabbis and members of our communities have welcomed children into their families through the use of in vitro fertilization. The Central Conference of American Rabbis condemns the Alabama Supreme Court’s ruling in the strongest terms. We call upon our members to support those who are impacted by this ruling, to let our elected officials know of our strong objection to the court’s decision and to work to pass legislation that affirms that frozen embryos are not people. We further call on the United States Supreme Court to overturn this decision forthwith.

Rabbi Erica Asch, President
Rabbi Hara E. Person, Chief Executive
Central Conference of American Rabbis

[1] Le Page v. Center for Reproductive Medicine, P.C., Supreme Court of Alabama, February 16, 2024, https://law.justia.com/cases/alabama/supreme-court/2024/sc-2022-0579.html.

[2] Babylonian Talmud, Y’vamot 69b.

[3] Exodus 21:22–23, Mishnah Ohalot 7.6.