Florida Pauses Bill Treating Embryos as ‘Children’ as GOP Scrambles Over Backlash to IVF Ruling

Republican lawmakers have postponed a bill to allow lawsuits for “wrongful death” over embryos. It’s a clear PR move, given these are the same legislators who passed a near-total abortion ban

Florida Pauses Bill Treating Embryos as ‘Children’ as GOP Scrambles Over Backlash to IVF Ruling
Florida Senator Erin Grall (R). Photo: Screenshot/YouTube, Florida House

Amid ongoing chaos around IVF following the dystopian Alabama Supreme Court ruling that recognizes embryos as “extrauterine children,” Florida Republicans have postponed a bill that would similarly allow people to sue for wrongful death over the loss of embryos, the legislators behind the bill announced on Monday. “Although I have worked diligently to respond to questions and concerns, I understand there is still work that needs to be done,” Senator Erin Grall (R), the bill’s sponsor, said in a statement about the decision. “It is important we get the policy right with an issue of this significance.”

Grall’s nightmarish bill, called Civil Liability for the Wrongful Death of an Unborn Child and introduced at the end of 2023, would amend Florida’s wrongful death law to allow “the parents of an unborn child” to recover damages for the wrongful death of their embryo or fetus. Grall and her co-authors were the same Florida Republicans who introduced the state’s six-week abortion ban (currently blocked in court), so it’s pretty clear the decision to put the brakes on this bill has little to do with being “reasonable” and everything to do with optics.

Since the Alabama Supreme Court ruled that those who destroy frozen embryos can be liable for “wrongful death,” several fertility clinics in the state have paused IVF services, as IVF involves routine destruction of unused embryos. Some experts say the ruling has effectively amounted to a ban on IVF because clinics will stop offering these services if they fear they can be bankrupted by wrongful death suits. Because anti-abortion Republicans posture as “pro-life” and “pro-family,” and stopping people with fertility struggles from being able to have kids via IVF is pretty antithetical to that, Republican lawmakers have since scrambled to distance themselves from what’s happening in Alabama and are now claiming to support IVF. Of course, their votes to recognize that life begins at conception are in stark contrast with this. 

Yet, as Alabama patients wrangle with the devastating impacts of the court ruling, this is what we’re going to see: Anti-abortion, pro-fetal personhood lawmakers in Congress and across the country running PR spin to distance themselves from the realities that their policies are creating. 

Last month, Grall claimed her bill is “unrelated to abortion,” even as it would make abortion patients and providers vulnerable to wrongful death suits for terminating embryos and fetuses. Experts warned that it would potentially allow men to retaliate against ex-partners for having abortions, similar to what we’ve already seen in other states. For example, in Texas, one man is suing his ex-wife’s friends for $1 million each for wrongful death, because they helped her have a medication abortion. In Arizona, another man is suing the abortion clinic that helped his ex-wife have an abortion on behalf of the “estate” of her aborted embryo. Michelle Shindano, deputy director of government relations at Planned Parenthood of Southwest and Central Florida, told Rolling Stone in January that Grall’s bill “really opens the door for harassment from partners—even if the partner was originally in agreement with the abortion” and “puts survivors of domestic abuse in a super vulnerable position.”

These are just some of the consequences of court decisions and policymaking that treat embryos as children, eligible for wrongful death suits if frozen embryos are destroyed or pregnancies are lost or terminated. If there was any doubt that, despite pausing the Civil Liability for the Wrongful Death of an Unborn Child bill for now, Florida Republicans and all anti-abortion leaders are still pushing their dystopian agenda, I give you this from Florida Voice for the Unborn. After Grall postponed her bill on Monday, the anti-abortion group praised her for scrapping the “flawed” bill, which didn’t go far enough for them. The bill should define “unborn children frozen as embryos,” the group said. They expect that it will be reintroduced—with an even more extreme definition of children—and passed in 2025.

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