Proposed Arizona Law Could Promote Embryonic Personhood

A new bill in Arizona has some reproductive rights advocates worried that the state is trying to set a precedent that would establish embryonic personhood  — a first in the United States.

Proponents argue that the bill “protects a parent’s right to his or her in vitro embryos in a divorce proceeding,” and is simply a necessary clarification in the law. But because they’re backed by national conservative interests that have historically lobbied against reproductive freedoms, critics are viewing their claim with a grain of salt.

SB 1393 might sound innocuous, and like a much-needed fix to a heartbreaking problem: What happens when a couple divorces and they can’t agree on what should happen with embryos they froze while they were married?

This situation isn’t just hypothetical, as highlighted by the case of Arizona resident Ruby Torres, a breast cancer survivor who froze embryos before starting treatment in the hopes of having children in the future. Torres and her husband later separated, but when she asked for the embryos so she could have biological children, he refused. He didn’t want to bear the cost of parenting, he said.

Fortunately, the two of them had signed a medical agreement at the time of the procedure, articulating how they would handle this situation in the event that it arose. In accordance with the agreement, the judge ruled that the embryos should be donated to a fertility bank or another couple. But Torres appealed, and her fight isn’t over.

Situations like these may not be common, but they are snarled and difficult to untangle. SB 1393 purports to resolve the issue by legislating that in the event of a dispute, embryos should go to the person who “intends to allow the in vitro human embryos to develop to birth.”

It would terminate all rights for the other party in the dispute, and if they were a genetic parent, they would be required to submit medical records that would be kept on file for 99 years. If both partners want the embryos but only…

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