Religious Debate Over IVF Erupts After Alabama Supreme Court Ruling: Perspectives from Across the Faith Spectrum

MONTGOMERY, Alabama — In a recent ruling by the Alabama Supreme Court, Chief Justice Tom Parker equated in vitro fertilization (IVF) embryos with people, basing his judgment on religious arguments from various sources throughout history. Parker cited the belief in “God” as the foundation for the court’s decision. However, it is worth noting that major religious denominations and Americans, including those in conservative Christian circles, hold diverse perspectives on IVF.

When IVF was first introduced in the 1970s, scholars from different faiths expressed caution and raised concerns about the disposal of extra embryos, the morality of creating babies for profit, and the potential violation of marital bonds through the use of donor sperm or eggs. While some Protestant groups were quick to embrace IVF, other denominations, such as Hinduism, Buddhism, and certain Protestant sects, had more accepting views. IVF also gained acceptance in the Muslim world as major Muslim leaders endorsed the procedure.

The Catholic Church, which teaches that life begins at conception, initially prohibited IVF in a 1987 document called “Donum Vitae” issued by the Vatican. The document cited reasons such as the separation of pregnancy and birth from the act of intercourse between married couples. Elizabeth Kirk, co-director of the Center for Law and the Human Person at Catholic University, expressed support for laws and court decisions that align with the truth of human personhood from conception to natural death.

Jewish leaders, overall, have been supportive of IVF and assisted reproduction, referring to God’s command to “be fruitful and multiply.” However, different segments of Judaism hold varying opinions on how to approach IVF, including considerations of Jewish status and converting a child if a donor egg comes from a non-Jewish individual. Conservative Jewish groups focus on adhering to other religious rules, such as observing the Sabbath and refraining from masturbation.

While religious groups hold differing views on IVF, Americans in general tend to support fertility treatments, including IVF. Pew Research conducted a survey in 2013, which found that only 12 percent of Americans considered IVF morally wrong. Majority opinions varied among different religious groups, including Protestants and Catholics. Even among conservative evangelicals, most considered IVF either moral or not a moral issue at all.

The United Methodist Church, one of the largest Protestant denominations in the United States, supports IVF and the donation of extra embryos for medical research. However, there is significant diversity within the denomination, as demonstrated by the split of Frazer, a Montgomery megachurch affiliated with the United Methodist Church, in 2022. Frazer joined the more conservative Free Methodist denomination, which believes life begins at conception and recognizes the ethical and theological complexities associated with reproductive technologies.

The issue of when human life begins and how it should be protected has been a source of debate among Christians as well. The early Christian church opposed abortion, but different interpretations emerged over time. Thomas Aquinas, a 13th-century philosopher, believed that distinctly human life did not begin until later stages of pregnancy, suggesting that the fetal stage transitions through different forms before becoming fully human.

Christians, particularly evangelicals, opposed to reproductive technologies often emphasize the belief that fully human beings are created at conception. They draw support from scripture, such as a passage in the Book of Jeremiah that speaks of being set apart even before being formed in the womb. However, other scriptural references, like one in Exodus, complicate a straightforward interpretation, as it addresses the consequences of injuring a pregnant woman in a fight.

In the wake of the Alabama Supreme Court ruling, opinions among Christians are diverse and sparking debates within denominations. Questions have been raised about the role of government in citizens’ lives and the influence of Christian interpretations in shaping policies. These topics reflect ongoing discussions that individuals and religious groups continue to navigate as they balance their beliefs and societal changes.