How Alabama’s IVF bill undermines the dignity of the unborn

March 13, 2024

In February 2024, the Alabama Supreme Court issued a ruling in favor of parents who had utilized in vitro fertilization (IVF) and had their embryos dropped and destroyed at the fertility clinic. The court stated that frozen embryos created and stored in IVF clinics can be considered children under state law. IVF is a medical procedure that involves “the harvesting of ovum from a woman and sperm from a man, both of which are prepared before fertilization of the egg(s) takes place in a lab.” This results in the creation of a human embryo, which is then implanted into the uterus to try to achieve pregnancy.

When IVF clinics said the ruling would force their closure, the public backlash was swift and led many politicians, both Democrat and Republican, to denounce the ruling. In response, legislators in Alabama rushed to pass a law that protects IVF providers from civil and criminal liability. The legislation offers civil and criminal immunity to providers and patients for the destruction or damage to embryos, retroactively applying to past cases. 

While recognizing the devastating realities of infertility, many pro-life organizations—including the ERLC—believe the new law is ill-considered, fails to protect unborn (also referred to as “preborn” by pro-life advocates) life, and is in opposition to the state’s constitution, which expressly protects the sanctity of life. Here are some of the thoughtful reasons pro-life Christians should also oppose this law and similar legislation. 

The new law is inconsistent in protecting unborn life.

In 2019, Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey signed a bill into law that prohibits almost all abortions in the state. Because of this law, unborn children in the womb are protected from being killed. Yet, the governor has also signed this new law, which explicitly states that unborn children outside the womb are not protected if they were created through the process of IVF. 

This makes the value of the unborn life dependent on the location of the child. 

As bioethicist Christopher Tollefsen recently pointed out, “The human embryo is a human being, whether in utero, undergoing cell division in vitro, or temporarily (or permanently) in frozen stasis in a ‘nursery,’ as the Alabama Supreme Court tellingly, but somewhat ironically, calls it.” However, this is the major dilemma with the ethics behind IVF: many individuals and families, whether through lack of education or misinformation, do not recognize that the embryo is a person.

The new law contradicts the “Sanctity of Life” provision in the Alabama Constitution.

In 2018, the people of Alabama voted “yes” to Amendment 2, adding a new amendment to the Alabama Constitution. The following text was included:

(a) This state acknowledges, declares, and affirms that it is the public policy of this state to recognize and support the sanctity of unborn life and the rights of unborn children, including the right to life.

(b) This state further acknowledges, declares, and affirms that it is the public policy of this state to ensure the protection of the rights of the unborn child in all manners and measures lawful and appropriate.

This was the law cited by the Alabama Supreme Court in their recent ruling when they declared that frozen embryos located in an IVF clinic were to be considered “children.” As the court noted, “That section of the [Alabama] constitution, which is titled ‘Sanctity of Unborn Life,’ operates in this context as a constitutionally imposed canon of construction, directing courts to construe ambiguous statutes in a way that ‘protect[s] … the rights of the unborn child’ equally with the rights of born children, whenever such construction is ‘lawful and appropriate.’”

The new law, however, violates both the spirit and letter of the state’s “Sanctity of Life” doctrine. In a rush to protect IVF clinics, state lawmakers have undermined their own constitution’s protections for the unborn. 

The reasoning behind the new law concerning IVF undermines protections for all unborn children.

One Republican state senator and medical doctor who previously voted for the Alabama pro-life constitutional amendment but also sponsored the immunity legislation said in a recent interview, “I think there’s just too much difference of opinion on when actual life begins.” 

He went on to say, “A lot of people say conception, a lot of people say implantation, a lot of people say heartbeat. I wish I had an answer.”

For over four decades, Southern Baptists have affirmed that human life begins at conception. 

Conception, also known as fertilization, is the agreed upon biological and scientific standard for when life begins. A 2021 survey found that 96% of biologists in academia affirmed that human life begins at conception. 

This consensus is so well-established that it forced pro-abortion advocates to shift their primary basis for argumentation since the national debate first rose to prominence. For the past several decades, the pro-abortion faction has mainly avoided the settled empirical question of when life begins and based their position on the more abstract determination of when “personhood” begins

Unfortunately, it appears that, in an effort to aid couples in their infertility, some pro-life legislators are willing to undermine pro-life reasoning and protect the IVF industry. For example, if Melson is correct and it’s unclear on whether life begins at implantation (between 6-12 days after conception) or when a heartbeat can be detected (six to seven weeks after conception), then some may find it unclear why Alabama prohibits abortion in the early stages of pregnancy. 

Pro-life or anti-abortion?

Many parents today are navigating the complex and heart-wrenching journey of infertility and exploring options like IVF. Their deep desire to bring life into this world deserves profound respect. Their path is also one of immense emotional and often spiritual challenges, and it’s important to acknowledge the heavy burdens and moral dilemmas they face in this pursuit.

At the same time, we must not fail to consider the moral problems that arise from IVF. A prime example is how the recent debate about IVF is forcing many people to answer the question, “Are we truly pro-life or merely anti-abortion?” For Christians, the answer should be clear since the sanctity and protection of life, whether unborn or born, is deeply rooted in biblical teachings. 

Our pro-life convictions arise from the understanding that every individual, from conception, is created in the image of God (Gen. 1:27), endowing each life with inherent dignity and worth. Psalm 139:13-16 also illustrates God’s intimate involvement in the formation of life in the womb, underscoring the belief that life begins at conception. The psalmist acknowledges God’s hand in knitting each person together, a vivid imagery of the Creator’s care and purpose for every human being, even before birth. 

Additionally, the biblical principle of stewardship entrusts humans with the responsibility of caring for and protecting all of God’s creation, including the most vulnerable humans among us. This stewardship is especially pertinent in the context of unborn life created through means such as IVF, which, while a remarkable technological achievement, also raises significant ethical and philosophical considerations. 

Philosophical considerations 

Consider, for instance, the principle of biological continuity, which states that human life is a seamless process from conception to natural death, and any attempts to draw arbitrary lines at stages like birth or viability are both scientifically and philosophically unsound. From the moment of conception, the embryo is a distinct, living, and whole human organism, possessing the intrinsic capacity to develop through the various stages of human life. This is not merely a potential human being but a human being with potential, fundamentally no different in nature from a newborn, a child, or an adult.

There is also the principle of identity, that what makes one human is not a particular stage of development or the acquisition of certain abilities, but the continuity of existence as the same biological entity from conception onwards. Thus, from a moral standpoint, the embryo, as a human entity, inherently possesses the same moral status and dignity as a human being at any other stage of life.

If we truly want to be “pro-life,” Christians must uphold the value of all unborn lives, ensuring their protection and advocating for their right to life. Such advocacy reflects the inherent value that God places on each individual, regardless of the circumstances of their conception. May God use his people to promote a true culture of life in our nation through a consistent ethic that’s demonstrated in what we say and how we live. 

Article 12: The Future of AI

We affirm that AI will continue to be developed in ways that we cannot currently imagine or understand, including AI that will far surpass many human abilities. God alone has the power to create life, and no future advancements in AI will usurp Him as the Creator of life. The church has a unique role in proclaiming human dignity for all and calling for the humane use of AI in all aspects of society.

We deny that AI will make us more or less human, or that AI will ever obtain a coequal level of worth, dignity, or value to image-bearers. Future advancements in AI will not ultimately fulfill our longings for a perfect world. While we are not able to comprehend or know the future, we do not fear what is to come because we know that God is omniscient and that nothing we create will be able to thwart His redemptive plan for creation or to supplant humanity as His image-bearers.

Genesis 1; Isaiah 42:8; Romans 1:20-21; 5:2; Ephesians 1:4-6; 2 Timothy 1:7-9; Revelation 5:9-10

Article 11: Public Policy

We affirm that the fundamental purposes of government are to protect human beings from harm, punish those who do evil, uphold civil liberties, and to commend those who do good. The public has a role in shaping and crafting policies concerning the use of AI in society, and these decisions should not be left to those who develop these technologies or to governments to set norms.

We deny that AI should be used by governments, corporations, or any entity to infringe upon God-given human rights. AI, even in a highly advanced state, should never be delegated the governing authority that has been granted by an all-sovereign God to human beings alone. 

Romans 13:1-7; Acts 10:35; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 10: War

We affirm that the use of AI in warfare should be governed by love of neighbor and the principles of just war. The use of AI may mitigate the loss of human life, provide greater protection of non-combatants, and inform better policymaking. Any lethal action conducted or substantially enabled by AI must employ 5 human oversight or review. All defense-related AI applications, such as underlying data and decision-making processes, must be subject to continual review by legitimate authorities. When these systems are deployed, human agents bear full moral responsibility for any actions taken by the system.

We deny that human agency or moral culpability in war can be delegated to AI. No nation or group has the right to use AI to carry out genocide, terrorism, torture, or other war crimes.

Genesis 4:10; Isaiah 1:16-17; Psalm 37:28; Matthew 5:44; 22:37-39; Romans 13:4

Article 9: Security

We affirm that AI has legitimate applications in policing, intelligence, surveillance, investigation, and other uses supporting the government’s responsibility to respect human rights, to protect and preserve human life, and to pursue justice in a flourishing society.

We deny that AI should be employed for safety and security applications in ways that seek to dehumanize, depersonalize, or harm our fellow human beings. We condemn the use of AI to suppress free expression or other basic human rights granted by God to all human beings.

Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 8: Data & Privacy

We affirm that privacy and personal property are intertwined individual rights and choices that should not be violated by governments, corporations, nation-states, and other groups, even in the pursuit of the common good. While God knows all things, it is neither wise nor obligatory to have every detail of one’s life open to society.

We deny the manipulative and coercive uses of data and AI in ways that are inconsistent with the love of God and love of neighbor. Data collection practices should conform to ethical guidelines that uphold the dignity of all people. We further deny that consent, even informed consent, although requisite, is the only necessary ethical standard for the collection, manipulation, or exploitation of personal data—individually or in the aggregate. AI should not be employed in ways that distort truth through the use of generative applications. Data should not be mishandled, misused, or abused for sinful purposes to reinforce bias, strengthen the powerful, or demean the weak.

Exodus 20:15, Psalm 147:5; Isaiah 40:13-14; Matthew 10:16 Galatians 6:2; Hebrews 4:12-13; 1 John 1:7 

Article 7: Work

We affirm that work is part of God’s plan for human beings participating in the cultivation and stewardship of creation. The divine pattern is one of labor and rest in healthy proportion to each other. Our view of work should not be confined to commercial activity; it must also include the many ways that human beings serve each other through their efforts. AI can be used in ways that aid our work or allow us to make fuller use of our gifts. The church has a Spirit-empowered responsibility to help care for those who lose jobs and to encourage individuals, communities, employers, and governments to find ways to invest in the development of human beings and continue making vocational contributions to our lives together.

We deny that human worth and dignity is reducible to an individual’s economic contributions to society alone. Humanity should not use AI and other technological innovations as a reason to move toward lives of pure leisure even if greater social wealth creates such possibilities.

Genesis 1:27; 2:5; 2:15; Isaiah 65:21-24; Romans 12:6-8; Ephesians 4:11-16

Article 6: Sexuality

We affirm the goodness of God’s design for human sexuality which prescribes the sexual union to be an exclusive relationship between a man and a woman in the lifelong covenant of marriage.

We deny that the pursuit of sexual pleasure is a justification for the development or use of AI, and we condemn the objectification of humans that results from employing AI for sexual purposes. AI should not intrude upon or substitute for the biblical expression of sexuality between a husband and wife according to God’s design for human marriage.

Genesis 1:26-29; 2:18-25; Matthew 5:27-30; 1 Thess 4:3-4

Article 5: Bias

We affirm that, as a tool created by humans, AI will be inherently subject to bias and that these biases must be accounted for, minimized, or removed through continual human oversight and discretion. AI should be designed and used in such ways that treat all human beings as having equal worth and dignity. AI should be utilized as a tool to identify and eliminate bias inherent in human decision-making.

We deny that AI should be designed or used in ways that violate the fundamental principle of human dignity for all people. Neither should AI be used in ways that reinforce or further any ideology or agenda, seeking to subjugate human autonomy under the power of the state.

Micah 6:8; John 13:34; Galatians 3:28-29; 5:13-14; Philippians 2:3-4; Romans 12:10

Article 4: Medicine

We affirm that AI-related advances in medical technologies are expressions of God’s common grace through and for people created in His image and that these advances will increase our capacity to provide enhanced medical diagnostics and therapeutic interventions as we seek to care for all people. These advances should be guided by basic principles of medical ethics, including beneficence, non-maleficence, autonomy, and justice, which are all consistent with the biblical principle of loving our neighbor.

We deny that death and disease—effects of the Fall—can ultimately be eradicated apart from Jesus Christ. Utilitarian applications regarding healthcare distribution should not override the dignity of human life. Fur- 3 thermore, we reject the materialist and consequentialist worldview that understands medical applications of AI as a means of improving, changing, or completing human beings.

Matthew 5:45; John 11:25-26; 1 Corinthians 15:55-57; Galatians 6:2; Philippians 2:4

Article 3: Relationship of AI & Humanity

We affirm the use of AI to inform and aid human reasoning and moral decision-making because it is a tool that excels at processing data and making determinations, which often mimics or exceeds human ability. While AI excels in data-based computation, technology is incapable of possessing the capacity for moral agency or responsibility.

We deny that humans can or should cede our moral accountability or responsibilities to any form of AI that will ever be created. Only humanity will be judged by God on the basis of our actions and that of the tools we create. While technology can be created with a moral use in view, it is not a moral agent. Humans alone bear the responsibility for moral decision making.

Romans 2:6-8; Galatians 5:19-21; 2 Peter 1:5-8; 1 John 2:1

Article 2: AI as Technology

We affirm that the development of AI is a demonstration of the unique creative abilities of human beings. When AI is employed in accordance with God’s moral will, it is an example of man’s obedience to the divine command to steward creation and to honor Him. We believe in innovation for the glory of God, the sake of human flourishing, and the love of neighbor. While we acknowledge the reality of the Fall and its consequences on human nature and human innovation, technology can be used in society to uphold human dignity. As a part of our God-given creative nature, human beings should develop and harness technology in ways that lead to greater flourishing and the alleviation of human suffering.

We deny that the use of AI is morally neutral. It is not worthy of man’s hope, worship, or love. Since the Lord Jesus alone can atone for sin and reconcile humanity to its Creator, technology such as AI cannot fulfill humanity’s ultimate needs. We further deny the goodness and benefit of any application of AI that devalues or degrades the dignity and worth of another human being. 

Genesis 2:25; Exodus 20:3; 31:1-11; Proverbs 16:4; Matthew 22:37-40; Romans 3:23

Article 1: Image of God

We affirm that God created each human being in His image with intrinsic and equal worth, dignity, and moral agency, distinct from all creation, and that humanity’s creativity is intended to reflect God’s creative pattern.

We deny that any part of creation, including any form of technology, should ever be used to usurp or subvert the dominion and stewardship which has been entrusted solely to humanity by God; nor should technology be assigned a level of human identity, worth, dignity, or moral agency.

Genesis 1:26-28; 5:1-2; Isaiah 43:6-7; Jeremiah 1:5; John 13:34; Colossians 1:16; 3:10; Ephesians 4:24