Anna Kendrick Made Embryos With a ‘Toxic’ Ex—A More Complicated Situation, Post-Roe

As Republicans push to treat embryos as people, many ex-couples are finding themselves in legal gray areas and court battles around what to do with them.

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Anna Kendrick Made Embryos With a ‘Toxic’ Ex—A More Complicated Situation, Post-Roe
Photo:Amy Sussman (Getty Images)

A headline like “Anna Kendrick made embryos with ‘toxic’ ex who had feelings for someone else” really grabs you by the collar—the infidelity cuts all the more deeply because of the permanence of it all. The couple made embryos together!

Kendrick didn’t disclose what became of the embryos she created with her unnamed ex on her Monday appearance on the Armchair Expert podcast, but the fallout sounds traumatizing. “I was with someone—this was somebody I lived with, for all intents and purposes my husband. We had embryos together, this was my person,” she said on the podcast. “And then about six years in, about somewhere around there, I remember telling my brother, when things had first kind of gone down, ‘I’m living with a stranger. Like, I don’t know what’s happening.’”

If you’ve spent the last 24 hours since the actor’s revelation wondering what became of the embryos, you should know that cases like this aren’t rare. On numerous occasions, separated couples who created embryos together have been pulled into a legal gray area that’s grown more complicated since the fall of Roe v. Wade last year, and with it, the emergence of more state-level abortion bans that accord embryos legal personhood with “life begins at conception” language.

“When there remains so much uncertainty around whether a state can legislate in the interests of prenatal ‘life,’ they can decide that embryos are children, that anyone who’s engaging in IVF cannot destroy any embryos,” Dana Sussman, acting executive director of Pregnancy Justice, told Jezebel. If embryos are children, separated couples could find themselves in brutal custody battles, or a pregnant spouse who crosses state lines without their partner’s permission could be charged with kidnapping.

The end of Roe has sparked growing concern among IVF clinics about how their work (which involves disposing of unused embryos) could be impacted by laws that regard embryos as people. But even before last summer, courts and state lawmakers have previously navigated thorny custody cases over separated couples’ embryos, and the circumstances under which they can be destroyed.

In 2018, Arizona’s state Supreme Court ruled that a woman couldn’t use frozen embryos she’d made with her ex-husband. But to the delight of anti-abortion activists, including the conservative legal group the Thomas More Society, the court also ruled that the woman would have to donate the unused embryos to couples or individuals struggling with fertility, so they wouldn’t be left frozen or disposed. Later that year, Arizona state lawmakers passed a bill requiring that in cases of disputed embryos, the embryos should be awarded to the party that’s most likely to make them “develop to birth.” Sussman called Arizona’s law “concerning,” as it could lead to someone getting custody of embryos, even if their former partner doesn’t consent to it.

In California, meanwhile, a Superior Court judge ruled in favor of an ex-husband in 2015 who wanted his shared embryos to be destroyed, despite the fact that his ex-wife wanted to use them. In 2012 and 2016, in Pennsylvania and Illinois respectively, judges sided with women seeking possession of embryos over their exes’ attempts to block them. The embryos had been created prior to both women undergoing cancer treatments threatening their fertility, and each judge determined the embryos were the women’s only chance to have biological children. In 2000, a court in Massachusetts ruled that “as a matter of public policy,” a man who didn’t want his ex-wife to develop their shared embryos should not be “[compelled] to become a parent against his or her will.”

Ultimately, Sussman emphasizes that despite lack of consistent rulings in court, and lack of federal and state policies regarding custody of embryos, “most places have not gone so far as to treat them as children or as people.”

While no legal dispute has emerged from Kendrick’s situation over her unused embryos, other famous ex-couples have gone to court over their own shared embryos. Most notably, Sofia Vergara’s ex, Nick Loeb, has sued the actress multiple times over frozen embryos the couple created together, seeking to make Vergara a biological parent of his kids against her will. In 2016, Loeb filed a lawsuit on behalf of plaintiffs “Emma” and “Isabella”—names he assigned to their unused embryos—as he sued Vergara for them in the state of Louisiana, where embryos are recognized as “judicial persons.” In the suit, Loeb claimed Vergara had “abandoned and chronically neglected” the embryos by freezing them for three years and denying them a chance to be born. Loeb’s lawsuits ultimately didn’t lead anywhere, but stoked vocal support from anti-abortion and “father’s rights” groups.

Kendrick and her ex seem to have avoided going down the path of Loeb and Vergara—but we can expect legal conflict surrounding embryos to continue. “Courts are often left to grapple with this and make judgment calls based on gleaning from other areas of law,” Sussman says. And now, they’re doing so without the precedent of Roe.

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