A Texas mother wants custody of three frozen embryos whom she and her ex-husband created through in vitro fertilization, saying they should be treated as children now that state law recognizes the value of babies in the womb.
WFAA News 8 reports Caroline Antoun, of Denton, Texas, recently appealed a judge’s ruling that gave the embryos to her ex-husband in accordance with a contract that they had signed during the IVF process.
Antoun said she did not really understand what she was signing at the time, and the contract treats their embryos as property rather than the unique, individual human beings who they are.
“It really was clear with the Dobbs decision and with Texas being a trigger law state that very clearly defined life as beginning at fertilization,” she said. “Frozen embryos are a fertilized egg.”
Years earlier, Antoun said she and her former husband lost four children to miscarriage before they decided to try in vitro fertilization, or IVF. The infertility treatment involves using the mother’s eggs and father’s sperm to create embryos in a lab and then implanting them into the mother’s womb. Often, more embryos are created than are used, and many are frozen or destroyed.
Antoun said she and her ex-husband had five embryos through IVF, and she gave birth to the first two, twins Theodore and Talia. However, the Denton couple struggled to overcome the pain of their previous miscarriages and on-going infertility, and eventually sought a divorce, according to the report.
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Their divorce trial took place five days after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade and began allowing lawmakers to protect unborn babies from abortion again. Antoun told the news outlet that she thought the ruling would make a difference in the case of their embryos.
“If we say we value life and the whole idea of overturning Roe v. Wade and the trigger laws said we’re trying to protect life, but we’re still treating life over here as if its property that can be sold and bartered and done away with, that doesn’t match up at all,” Antoun said.
However, the judge upheld the IVF contract and gave the embryos to her ex-husband, she said.
Seema Mohapatra, professor of health law at the SMU Dedman School of Law and an expert on IVF law, told News 8 that Texas bans abortions but other state law still treats frozen embryos as property. She said state lawmakers may consider legislation this year to change that.
“I think that is probably the next step,” Mohapatra said.
The case is one of many ethical dilemmas that courts are facing involving the rights of parents and of human embryos created through in vitro fertilization. The embryos are unique human beings in their earliest form, and they already have their own specific DNA.
In 2014, an Illinois judge decided to award a mother her three frozen embryos, though her ex-boyfriend wanted them destroyed. Another high-profile court battle took place between actress Sofia Vergara and her ex-fiance.
Meanwhile, there are countless other embryos abandoned in storage across the U.S. In 2011, a study in the journal of the American Society for Reproductive Medicine revealed that 19 percent of unused embryos are discarded and 3 percent are donated for scientific research.
“These embryos are being denied their humanity, treated like nothing more than a commodity,” wrote Ana Brennan, J.D., vice president of the Society of St. Sebastian, previously. “This is not some abstract debate; this is the very real situation we are faced with in this moment. If we believe life begins at conception, we need to start acting like it.”
Fortunately, some couples are choosing a life-affirming alternative called embryo adoption, or snowflake adoption, which allows people to adopt their embryos and give them a chance at life.